Should we call us patients? Thoughts on changing mindsets, not terms

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E. Michael D. Scott, who describes himself as “a patient, a patient advocate, a patient educator, and a professional health care communications specialist” has a new article in the Journal of Participatory Medicine, “The Term “Patient” May Describe Me … But It Does Not Define Me.”

The article is introduced by a Journal editor’s note, that reads:

“Recently, I had the privilege of being part of a very stimulating email thread on the Society of Participatory Medicine’s member-only list about the meaning of the word “patient” and what it implied for the field of Participatory Medicine. I invited several of the participants in this “conversation” to submit their ideas to the Journal to be published in the Commentary section. This excellent piece on whether we should consider changing the term “patient” is the first one I have received. I appreciate Mr. Scott’s perspective. I view the patient care arena a little like a battlefield, which the doctor and patient need to approach with their senses activated to give the encounter their best effort. Sometimes, though, we need “wakeup calls” like the slap in the face Mr Scott gave his cardiovascular surgeon at 3 AM before he was to undergo heart surgery. This is a good example of an activated, engaged patient, and one of the countless examples of how patients can participate in a way that improves their own health care outcomes.”

I followed the aforementioned email thread with interest. It’s still going.

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Sheryl Kurland

December 30, 2010 at 8:58 am

I’ve also been following Michael Scott’s thread “The Term ‘Patient’ May Describe Me…But It Does Not Define Me,” and, as a fellow Patient Advocate, I have found the friendly banter quite interesting. I think a key word throughout the discussion is “respect.” Just as health care providers are accused of possessing an edge of arrogance, patients sometimes possess the same; it’s a two-way street. Often, if the PATIENT TAKES INITIATIVE to makes some adjustments, the relationship with the health care provider will become more salient, cordial, productive…and respectful. So what can a patient do? In most cases, the patient is seeing the health care provider due to a non-emergency medical problem. This means there is time to prepare for the medical appointment. Write down specific symptoms and health problems you want to discuss; prioritize them. Bring pen and paper to take notes. When necessary, say to the doctor, “I’m not following you. Will you please re-explain what you just said and talk a little slower for me? Can you draw a quick diagram to help me understand my problem? Where can I learn more about my diagnosis?” Stay on track with your appointment “agenda,” which indicates to the doctor that you are respectful of his time. Additionally, be pro-active in your health care treatment plan; for example, find out, in advance of your appointment, if test results got from Primary Care Doctor A to Specialist Doctor B. And remember, in whatever you say or do, there is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Assertivess mixed with a little kindness will go a long way in helping you, the patient, achieve the best health care outcome.


December 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I found Sheryl’s comment very interesting but as a “patient” I have to admit that what makes me most uncomfortable during a visit to the doctor is precisely the time factor.
While I understand that I’m certainly not there to tell the story of my life and go on ranting, I always have the feeling that “the clock is ticking” and that the doc is both listening and counting the minutes (if not seconds) at the same time.
I understand perfectly that the healthcare worker doesn’t have all day for me, but a lot of them are very good at making it very obvious that they don’t have time and you’re keeping them after the first 1 or 2 minutes. Not a lot can be conveyed in that very limited timeframe.