Wednesday, January 03, 2007

To Doctors and Hospitals, I am a CLIENT, not a "patient."

In late 1989, I was diagnosed with cancer. In 1990, I began calling myself a doctor's "client" rather than his/her "patient."

The reason is that it became so completely apparent to me, subsequent to being dx'd with cancer, and thus spending so much time in doctors' offices and in hospitals, that doctoring and hospitals are undoubtedly Businesses, with a Capital "B."

What other business can you think of in which the person who has been hired and who is being paid for his services, gets to call the person they're working for their "patient"?

What does the word "patient" connote anymore except a hierarchy in which the person paying for work he wants done is viewed as being dependent on and inferior to the doctor or the hospital staff he has hired to do the work?

Perhaps in another century the word "patient" referred to some kind of special trust/special relationship a person had with his doctor. I am not sure of that. I am not sure at all, in fact of how the privilege of calling their clients "patients" was bestowed upon or invented by doctors. I do know that Bernard Shaw, whose life spanned both the 19th and the early 20th centuries, had a healthy mistrust of doctors. Here are two two of his (paraphrased) quotations about doctors and doctoring:

1) "One of the worst things about becoming seriously ill is that one must place oneself in the hands of a profession one deeply mistrusts."

2) "While it may be in the best interest of society to give bakers a pecuniary interest in baking bread, it is not at all necessarily in the best interest of society to give surgeons a pecuniary interest in cutting off legs."

Q: What is the very FIRST thing a doctor's office or a hospital is interested in when meeting a new client?
A: The first thing they want to know is how they will get paid for their services.

That is only reasonable, of course. Any business must have a way of ensuring clients will pay them for services performed, but why, then, is it that doctors and hospitals get to call their clients "patients" instead of "clients"?

This is not a trivial matter I am talking about---not in an age in which anyone who wishes to can surf the internet to quickly educate themselves to the point where they can be on a fairly equal footing with their doctor when it comes to discussing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. In fact, with the advent of the internet, it is even possible for someone to know about an effective treatment or treatments of which the doctor is unaware.

Then of course there is the huge area of natural/alternative treatment, about which far too many doctors still know little to nothing. Therefore, when a person well-versed in natural/alternative medicine is doing all they can to heal themselves, an MD may well be only one of several different professionals for whose services they choose to pay.

Here are definitions of both the word "patient" and the word "client." "Patient" appears to me to have far more to do with being passive, and with being acted upon, than does "client." When it comes to being treated for life-threatening, or just quality of life-threatening dis-easem, I very much prefer the active role, and I use the active word both to remind myself that no one cares more about my health than I do, and to let medical professionals know who I am and how I expect to be treated.

pa·tient (pshnt)


1. Bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance with calmness.

2. Marked by or exhibiting calm endurance of pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance.

3. Tolerant; understanding: an unfailingly patient leader and guide.

4. Persevering; constant: With patient industry, she revived the failing business and made it thrive.

5. Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result; not hasty or impulsive.

6. Capable of bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance: "My uncle Toby was a man patient of injuries" Laurence Sterne.


1. One who receives medical attention, care, or treatment.

2. Linguistics A noun or noun phrase identifying one that is acted upon or undergoes an action. Also called goal.

3. Archaic One who suffers.

cli·ent (klnt)


1. The party for which professional services are rendered, as by an attorney.

2. A customer or patron: clients of the hotel.

3. A person using the services of a social services agency.

4. One that depends on the protection of another.

5. A client state.

6. Computer Science A computer or program that can download files for manipulation, run applications, or request application-based services from a file server.


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