Medical Practice Management
Feb 10

Is it “patient” or “customer”

Just read a pretty interesting article about patient vs. customer as the language being used in healthcare but not in any other industry.  The point was made that the word “patient” is now an antiquated term for healthcare consumer and in very real ways, patients are now customers shopping for care.  The origin of the word patient from the Latin means” one who suffers”….or more literally, “I am suffering”.

I can’t resist chiming in with my two cents on this discussion.  Having been a CPA and consultant in the healthcare industry for over 25 years; my first thought is that of the hundreds of physicians I have personally known not much has changed during my years.  Of course technology has revolutionized how physicians document and communicate about and with patients.  It has even changed how some specialties treat patients; but technology has not changed the vast majority of physician motivation.  

What motivates most physicians is two-fold and complex.  It drives their behavior both in and out of the office, hospital, OR, home.  They are driven to find ways to treat disease and eliminate suffering  in humans.  And they would like to make money while doing that.  It’s not that simple nor as easy to define, but for the sake of argument will use it.

I remember a pathologist client I worked for early in my career who while talking on the phone to a surgeon about a frozen section of a tumor, had on hold his stockbroker who was concerned about the diamond mines in South Africa the physician had holdings in.  The pathologist was totally committed to the surgeon who had a patient on the table and would give him nothing less than his very best trained and experienced diagnosis while at the same time talking to his broker.  

To deny that money doesn’t at all motivate physicians would be a mistake. To say money is the only motivator would be a bigger one.  None of us are simply motivated individuals.  Most of us carry dual roles and we call that normal. We are parents, spouses, friends, consumers while at the same time full time in the workforce.  What is different about doctors (at least the ones I have known) is that they are 100% committed to patients while at the same time wearing multiple hats as we all do.  We have never misunderstood why doctors make money in the past. Why do we now?  

Even with the current environment of patients being consumers and of course in many ways customers of healthcare. They are still patients to most of the providers of healthcare and are living better and longer to prove it.

Everyone reading this can immediately think of physicians they have known that they doubt the humanitarian side, so can I, but the vast majority are dedicated to their patients well-being and spend most of their lives ensuring that well-being and keeping suffering at bay.  

As long as there is suffering, I think the term "patient" still applies.

About Reed Tinsley, CPA

As a top advisor to physicians, I help increase practice profits by delivering hands-on, expert medical accounting/tax support, practice counsel, and revenue-building strategies. Read more →