What Happens When a Consumer Becomes a Patient?

It happens to all of us, sooner or later. Whether it’s a health concern your doctor brings up during a routine office visit. Or you ask your doctor about a medicine you saw advertised on TV, online, in a brochure in the waiting room, or something health-related a friend or family member told you.

At that moment, there is a paradigm shift in the way people think and act. A person’s mindset is different when under the care of a doctor. Language is different when being treated for a specific disease state. Listening is different when a person has to take ownership of his or her own well-being. Processing information is different in a heightened state due to illness.

Now patients become information seekers. About their condition, about medicines that treat their condition, and about over-the-counter products that can help improve their overall health and wellness.

Once informed, patients become information givers, eager to share their newfound knowledge and experience with family, friends, and colleagues. Now conversations begin with: “My doctor told me…”.  And these 4 words give instant credibility to what is being said about a medical condition and the medicines and products used to treat it.

So as the patient continues to “shop around” for health information and treatments, we see the evolution of the cycle, with the patient now becoming a consumer; a consumer of health goods and services. This is reflected in how we define these terms today. For example, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a consumer as one that utilizes economic goods, and a customer as one that purchases a commodity or service; Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines a patient as a client for medical services.

Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable to speak of patients in terms of “buying” medical care. A person was considered “under the care of” a physician; this bond was sacrosanct, and no one would ever consider questioning what the doctor said. In fact, the venerable century-old Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines a patient as a person who is ill or who is undergoing treatment for disease (they do not even have an entry for consumer or customer).

But as today’s consumers find themselves more and more responsible for their own health and wellness, the slogan from retailer Sy Syms rings true: an educated consumer is our best customer.

So, how did you become an educated consumer of healthcare?

Fill in the blank: “My doctor told me____”.




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