Is It a "Patient' or a 'Consumer'

  • Oct 22nd, 2019
  • Guy Paterson

Can We Reconcile the Terms "Patient" and "Consumer"

In an article published Oct 17, 2019 in Beckers Hosptial Review , Rick Evans, Chief Experience Officer at New York Presbyterian Hospital discusses the terminology we use for the people the health sector serves.

Mr. Evans points out the 'patient' derives from the Latin root for "one who suffers".  Healthcare has broadened the concept to 'patients and families" - recognizing the social aspects of care.  He asks if adding the word "consumer" to the people we serve cheapens or undermines the relationship.  He states that healthcare should always be focused on people caring for people, regardless of the more complex and technologically driven healthcare environment.

He states the emerging dynamics challenge us to expand thinking related to the changing society where convenience is prized, the world is heavily digital - factors that are changing industry after industry - and is now arriving at healthcare.  Choice is becoming a major part of healthcare and will more and more drive demands for convenience, accessibility, service and information.  Users of the healthcare system are comparing their experiences with other industries.  Other highly digital sectors are entering healthcare (Google, Amazon, Walmart) and may become competitors.  The healthcare sector needs to response to increased demands for transparency and choice. 

Mr. Evans states that ignoring these changes is at the health sectors peril, we are at risk of losing the trust of patients and we should be able to embrace the emerging consumerism in healthcare and hold both concepts - people we serve are patients and consumers - at the same time.

He states: “Acknowledging that patients are also consumers recognizes that they very often have choice. It highlights that we need to do much better at reducing the "administrative suffering" we inflict on patients — long waits for appointments, paperwork and disjointed communication, to name a few. It reinforces that we need to constantly work to make ourselves more accessible in a digital world. Rather than cheapening the notion of what it means to be a patient, the term "consumer" recognizes that patients are increasingly customers who make choices. When you look at it this way, the term actually reinforces the dignity and needs of those we serve."


Guy Paterson Director, Health Innovation and Economic Development Inc.

Guy Paterson is a Director and Officer of Health Inovation and Economic development Inc.  A Saskatchewan based not-for-profit with a misson to create the ecosystem, networks and alliances which support individuals and organizations seeking to conceive, test, develop and market innovative products, services and solutions for health and wellness.

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