"Patients" or "Customers"?


Two good posts about whether patients should be considered “customers” recently up at

Aggravated DocSurg and at Detroit Receiving’s EM Blog.

Bottom line is that there are a multitude of reasons why patients should not be considered “customers.”

Now if only more hospital administrators would buy into this concept. Unfortunately with health care dollars shrinking, the idea that the medical “customer is always right” won’t go away.

Does anyone think that this concept will hold true if we institute socialized medicine?


  1. Without taking sides on the issue (because I see both sides of it), I thought these comments in a recent discussion at JEMS Connect were interesting (this is from an EMS perspective):

    “In one presentation I heard on this topic, the presenter made a point that by making them “patients” we keep the people in a dependent role. If we call them “customers” we imply that they have a choice, and that makes us uncomfortable.

    No matter what you call it (“patient service,” “client service” or “customer service”) the principles are all the same. We are here to meet THEIR needs. Too many times us caregivers make decisions based on our needs, and disregard the needs of the person who called us that we don’t want to take care of. We will twist their arm to be transported to a hospital, but we won’t give them an apple or a candy bar to help with their hypoglycemia. WE are in charge – they get the solution that WE want to give them. Customers have choices….”

    Does this mean the customer is always right? No. I think it’s possible to perceive a patient as a customer (or consumer with rights) without the addition of the maxim that the customer is always “in the right”.

    Quite clearly, sometimes the customer is wrong, and if you read books like The New Strategic Selling, sometimes you have to fire (or not accept) a customer because they’re bad for business!

    Can we as health care providers “fire” our patients? Not in the emergency setting, no. But what about a primary care physician who has a chronically non-compliant patient?

    Can you terminate your relationship with such a patient?

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  3. i researched the defintion of patient and customer…quite succintly the former means someone who is receiving from or requires care of medical professionals and the latter means one who purchases goods or services. The empowerment of the customer comes from the money exchanged and his ability to take his business elsewhere if not satisified. When a customer chooses to purchase something, he will come armed with some knowledge of said item and some means to pay. A patient does not have to concern himself about payment or any knowledge of his condition….there is an absolute expectation of services and also an absolute expectation of a positive outcome which of course is unrealistic. An empowered patient listens to treatment options and makes a choice or if incapcitated the decison making person assumes that role, understanding risks and consequences. We can call them patients, customers whatever the next buzz word is but until people act like reasonable adults using the brains god gave them, they disempower themselves. I’m glad to meet their true needs but not even a customer is allowed to throw a tantrum in the showroom.

  4. If a customer wants to buy a pair of shoes that look horrible on him, so be it.

    If my patient wants me to order medications and tests that will harm him, I will not do so. I am a medical professional, not a service drone or a slave.

    I am my patients’ advocate – it’s my job to do what is best for them.

    Even if they don’t know what is best or believe me that using non-narcotic medications or not doing an MRI is a better solution, I am obligated to put their best interests above my personal opinions (“it’s easier to give the demerol and not fight about it.”).

    Techincally everyone on an airplane is also a customer, but no one tells the pilot how to fly the airplane or what route to take – he makes those decisions.

    Physicians work with patients to solve their problems as best as they can be solved. We treat them, not serve or service them.

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