Caveat emptor or blissful ignorance? Patients and the consumerist ethos

Soc Sci Med. 1991;33(5):559-68. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(91)90213-v.


The notion that consumerist behaviour is, or should be, prevalent amongst individuals seeking health care has underlain recent United States and British governmental policy directives. Consumer groups make similar assumptions when exhorting individuals to treat health care like any other service. This paper enquires to what extent patients conceive of themselves and others as adopting consumerist behaviour when seeking and evaluating primary health care. Three hundred and thirty-three patients attending general practices in Sydney, Australia, were asked in open-ended questions to state why they chose their regular doctor, why they continued to visit that doctor, if they had ever changed their doctor, if they thought most people could tell if a doctor were good or bad, and what qualities they thought constituted a good and bad doctor. It is concluded that the patients surveyed tended not to think of themselves as consumers who should be wary of the quality of service offered by doctors. Rather they preferred to trust their doctor, and therefore did not devote effort to actively seeking out information about their doctor or evaluating his or her services.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires