Patient, consumer, client, or customer: what do people want to be called?

Health Expect. 2005 Dec;8(4):345-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2005.00352.x.


Objective: To clarify preferred labels for people receiving health care.

Background: The proper label to describe people receiving care has evoked considerable debate among providers and bio-ethicists, but there is little evidence as to the preferences of the people involved.

Design: We analysed dictionary definitions as to the derivation and connotations of such potential labels as: patient, client, customer, consumer, partner and survivor. We then surveyed outpatients from four clinical populations in Ontario, Canada about their feelings about these labels.

Setting and participants: People from breast cancer (n = 202), prostate disease (n = 202) and fracture (n = 202) clinics in an urban Canadian teaching hospital (Sharpe study), and people with HIV/AIDS at 10 specialty care clinics and three primary care practices affiliated with the HIV Ontario Observational Database (n = 431). VARIABLES AND OUTCOME MEASURES: The survey instruments included questions about opinion of label, role in treatment decision-making (the Problem Solving Decision Making scale), trust, use of information and health status.

Results: Our respondents moderately liked the label 'patient'. The other alternatives evoked moderate to strong dislike.

Conclusions: Many alternatives to 'patient' incorporate assumptions (e.g. a market relationship) which care recipients may also find objectionable. People who are receiving care find the label 'patient' much less objectionable than the alternatives that have been suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Terminology as Topic*