Are We Patients or Healthcare Consumers?

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On the weekly #hcldr tweetchat last Tuesday, I posed the question “Are we patients or healthcare consumers?” What resulted was a flurry of comments that made it clear that people are very divided on the issue.

Some like Laurel Ann Whitlock (@twirlandswirl) felt that the consumer moniker is appropriate:

Others like Sarah Greene (@researchmatters) and @EyeSteve felt the opposite:

This line of thought is interesting. There is an underlying assumption that “consumer” implies a commoditized and transparent market – one where the service, outcomes and pricing are all well known to the individual making the purchasing decision. Most of healthcare doesn’t fit into this nice little box – except with routine health/wellness visits. For many this is where the consumer analogy breaks down. People do not feel like consumers not because they don’t want to be, but because healthcare is so confusing and opaque that normal consumer behavior is the exception rather than the rule. There was a little bit of negativity directed at calling patients consumers, a sentiment that was called into question by none other than Dr. Nick van Terheyden (@drnic1):

Steve Sisko (@ShimCode) put forth the notion that this shouldn’t be an either/or discussion:

I agree with both gentlemen. I don’t think there is anything inherently bad about being a healthcare consumer. It would be wonderful to have a system where we were all so healthy that our interaction with healthcare providers was a simple transaction. I believe that for the most part, “patient” is the appropriate name because it speaks to the deeper relationship with healthcare providers. This is especially true for those with chronic conditions and rare diseases.

D’Anna Holmes (@PoPculture_px) summed up the discussion nicely:


About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

1 Comment

  • We are both medical customers AND patients. The two descriptions intertwine. When I am shopping for a physician, medical facility, Pharmacy, specialist and the like to seek their professional input and possible diagnosis I am a medical customer. When I enter the hospital for a procedure, emergency, test I am the patient receiving the services and products discussed during my time as a medical customer. As the data from my hospital visit/stay is being documented into my EHR I am the patient, but when I authorize payment I am the Medical Customer. Customer = information and reimbursement. Patient = receiver of care, service and/or medical product.

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