The healthcare industry has a unique and complex relationship with the patients it serves. It has reached a crossroads where the terms “patient” and “customer” are often overtly used interchangeably; but, should they be? While considering patients as customers may or may not sound strange within the healthcare community, it is a logical progression of thought given the nature of the current industry.

There is a general agreement that healthcare is a service industry. Hiring a professional to fix your air conditioner will be a very different experience than the one you would have as a patient at a healthcare facility. Patients are seen by providers who, in turn, are expected to treat them with a high quality of care that leads to positive outcomes. However, these services are distinctly different from those provided by other service industries. It is for this reason that many healthcare professionals argue against adoption of the term “customer” in reference to their patients.

Comparing a “Patient” to a “Customer”

When you consider the term “patient,” you are more likely to think of this person as someone who is in need of care; but when you consider the term “customer,” you are more inclined to think about a transaction. Therefore, referring to patients as “customers” creates a shift in thinking where patients become less human and the care provided becomes more of a business exchange.

Another reason you may want to consider not using the term “customer”? Its close association with the idea that “the customer is always right.” Healthcare providers are often faced with life or death decisions. In such instances, acting according to the patient’s requests and preferences could be fatal. In addition, providers are constantly faced with situations that are controlled by the many duties of their positions, from maintaining compliance to enhancing patient-centered care to dealing with EHRs. All of these situations combine to make it significantly more important to differentiate the “patient” from the “customer.”

From a clinician’s standpoint, considering a patient to be a “customer,” may make them feel more inclined to do as the patient asks in order to provide a better customer experience, even at the risk of more negative outcomes. On the other hand, considering the patient as a “patient”, provides more flexibility in making the best decisions for the overall health of the person in their care rather than feeling confined by customer service restraints.

The Importance of Patient Engagement in Healthcare

Patients are demanding a higher quality of care, and because of other service industries, they are growing even more accustomed to instant gratification, getting what they desire quickly and easily. One way for healthcare organizations to meet these ever-increasing demands is through a healthcare communication platform like Twistle that provides automated care coordination. Twistle improves patient experience and outcomes, so you can meet the demands of both the “patient” and the “customer.” To learn more about how we can help turn your patients into more educated, better engaged, delighted customers, contact us.