a patient by any other name

Patient, client, consumer – which term do you prefer and why? What difference does it make? Who cares? Well, sit down and let’s take a look.


In the never ending dialectic about labels, I’m firmly on the side of labels. My reason is as simple as this; I want semantic precision in formal contexts. The rest of the time, idgaf. Applying the concept of common usage definitions, this is how I (subjectively, obviously) see things:

Patient: doctors treat patients.
Client: person hires doctor.
Consumer: person is part of the target market for medical services.

(All of those words do the job in one way or another, they could all be called precise, the rest is opinion – and all opinions are valid, no matter what one thinks of them.)

Another of my opinions where identity politics are concerned, is that everyone’s free to choose and use their own labels. Following that logic, doctors can call us whatever they want to, or ask us what we’d like to be called and then respect that wish. Articles and op-ed pieces online seem to be arguing for one specific yet blanket term; I’m not sure why that even matters. Is it because they need something to print on documents? When the letterhead belongs to a medical professional and the subject at hand is something along the lines of ‘treatment’, it seems incredibly simple to me. The official/printed stuff is the doctor or whatever, the rest refers to the person being treated, which makes the need for one and only one label even sillier.

“Many years ago, I heard a psychiatric colleague quip, “The only people who have clients are lawyers and hookers!” Depending on your point of view, he was being grossly unfair to either lawyers or hookers.” Why Doctors Don’t Have Clients

Apart from the fact that autocorrect wanted the word to be ‘hoovers’, it’s ironic that commentary about how to label people-seeking-help-from-the-medical-profession, blithely uses the word ‘hookers’, ignoring the most respectful term, ‘sex workers’. And it’s bullshit, utter bullshit. Someone’s charging money, someone’s paying it – say ‘clients’ if you want.

The following argument for sticking with the word ‘patient’ is as valid as any other, but it expresses my own opinion perfectly.

“The more we use these commercial terms to refer to intimate and personal care, the more that care becomes commercial and impersonal. Such is the power of language.” Dr Barry L. Farkas

I don’t have an issue with being called a client, but ‘consumer’? To me it’s the most commercial of commercial words. It makes me think of Oprah’s Xmas show audience, screaming for trinkets. It puts me in mind of Pac Man and of unhappy people wearing their cars like cloaks while they make their way around drive-through takeaway franchises, ashamed and hiding. That’s not a rational response though; it’s a disproportionate one too and I’m happy to admit it. I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life in Britain throughout my life and been treated (mostly poorly) by the NHS. They use ‘consumer’ and ‘service provider’ and then proceed to fail their consumers mightily. Fuck them and their spin. I don’t want to see some nebulous service provider thanks, I want to see whichever kind of doctor I need to see.


Patient, client, consumer… I think there’s valid argument for throwing the word ‘victim’ into the mix too, but leaving aside the obvious topic of cruelty and malpractice, there’s a concept that wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles I read about this stuff, and that’s the god complex. No wait, title case works better for that, the God Complex (A god complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility source). What the hell does it matter what they call us, when the relationship is that unequal anyway? Which term describes the act of paying a professional for their services best? That needs to be factored in to the whole debate as well. The medical God complex, as it exists now, and as rife as it is, requires the patient/client/consumer/customer to be a supplicant (a person who asks for something in a respectful way from a powerful person or God. source). If we (society) continue to allow it to continue, the doctor’s surgery is a church and payments are offerings. You don’t have to be religious to see how ludicrous that is. Doctors can bristle with as many delusions of grandeur as they please, but we absolutely do not have to worship at that altar. Or as I like to say, fuck that.

Now open wide and say aaaaaaaamen.

I think that the following quote sums it all up well, and I’m glad it comes from the psychiatric profession. Or should that be service provider or vendor or something?

“Simply use the term that the person whom you are addressing with is most comfortable with. You might discuss a “client” with a therapist, speak about a “consumer” with a mental health board, and still be able to refer a “patient” to another physician.”

Simple, right? And if all else fails, you can always try referring to people by their names.”

Patient’ Vs. ‘Client’: How Semantics Influences the Practice of Psychiatry


Disclaimer: this post accurately represents the opinion of the writer, the blog owner and the writer/blog owner’s dog, who recommends saying to your doctor, “I pay you, you are my bitch. You can call me sir.”

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