Patient, Client or Consumer?

It is common today to refer to recipients of treatment as clients or consumers. In my day, everyone was a patient. This politically correct nomenclature deserves a closer look. When I began my career, patients were special and healthcare actually meant caring for people!

In today’s managed care environment, healthcare has indeed become a business. As such, patients are the end users of a product or service; therefore, they become clients in a business sense as well as consumers of services or products. Regardless of the name we assign to the recipient of treatment whether it is Physical Therapy, an artificial limb or a brace, what really matters is the relationship.

What’s in a name? Actually, an individual who receives treatment in the form of Physical Therapy or requires a brace or prosthesis is a patient, client and consumer at the same time. A patient requires care and attention. This involves an evaluation, treatment, follow up and the intended outcome. Traditional treatment plans were based upon this protocol; therefore, care is most associated with the patient label. The professional-patient relationship focuses on treatment and outcomes.

The term client brings to mind a business relationship with a company. There is a financial or contractual relationship between the client and the provider of service. Products or services should be discussed in terms of outcomes. What is being received for the cost? The client-business relationship focuses on finances.

The consumer-provider relationship focuses on value. A consumer receives a product or a service from a provider that has a cost but the cost should be based on what the service or product does for the individual. Has the intended outcome actually been achieved? From this perspective, a product without related service has less value. It is fitting, given the circumstances of the present times, that recipients of healthcare services and related products are patients, clients and consumers simultaneously. The only term that has not changed is that we are all people. Healthcare is still about people caring for other people. Treatment should be based upon confidence and trust.