Last week, I was annoyed by a few newspaper articles in which those persons using health care services were called “consumers”.

I’ve had enough of that.

I want the people using health care services to be called “patients” again.
What is a “consumer”?

My Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines “consumer” as “a person who purchases goods or services for personal use”.

Many of the people who see doctors or go to hospitals are not there by choice. They are there because they have no choice but to have access to the “goods or services” of medical treatment. The word “consumer” does not describe their role.

More importantly, I want patients to know that, in so far as “consumer” implies a relationship, I am not someone “selling” or even offering “goods or services”.

The treatment of a medical condition unfortunately implies that a person’s health is compromised. The remedy is not usually straightforward, not usually just an exchange between someone offering a service and a “consumer” of a “good” or “service”. This kind of transaction implies that there is a choice about the “good” or “service”. To the extent that this is the case, it’s never a good choice.

So I’d like to have the language we use about health care, the language that we use about the person entering my office, to remind them and me that the “goods or services” I am offering are provided with a concern for their welfare that goes far beyond the goals of any shopkeeper or tradesperson. I want language to remind them and me that they are in my office, in a hospital to “receive care”.

I want everyone to recognize that I strive to go beyond a business transaction in what I do.

I want those people who enter my office, distressed and unwell, to be called “patients”.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Want to be a Consumer or a Patient?

  1. Donald Gilfix says:

    I can see that you are upset when patients are looking lumped into the same group as someone buying a coffee (although that may contribute to the ability to cope in yhe morning).

    However, before totally abandoning the concept of people who “consume” medical services, I would remind you of an earlier piece you wrote about people who think that just because a service doesn’t cost them anything out of their immediate pocket, it doesn’t mean that there are not costs to society in terms of wasted physician time and tax payer dollars.

    Don’t get hung up on the use of “consumer” in newspapers as it probably refers to some politcal situation. Few politicians and reporters are capable of thinking about the difference between overall medical consumption and the “needs” of the individual patient.

    Keep up the good and caring work you do!

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Thanks for this reminder, Don. I think it’s the impersonality of being a consumer – or the offerer – that bothers me.

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