Who Do You See: Patients Or Customers?

It’s an ongoing debate… customer or patient?

Some argue patients are not to be confused with customers, while others insist that patients are customers.

What are your thoughts; where do you stand? Speak your mind by leaving a comment below this article.

But Here’s The Question…

Why does it matter if you think of people coming to your clinic as patients or customers?

Because generally, one is treated differently from the other. And that’s been particularly true in the medical setting.

Here’s just one example to illustrates the point…

  • Think about your last shopping experience that involved a larger purchase. Often you have to wait for a salesperson while they’re answering questions for someone else. And when they finally come over to talk to you, more often than not, they offer an apology for keeping you waiting. Generally, the customer’s time is respected.
  • But that’s not what happens in the average medical setting. Some staff and providers don’t seem to think twice about keeping people waiting. It’s what happened to me not too long ago. I had to wait for over an hour before I was seen; no explanation, no apology!Sadly, it’s not at all uncommon to have to wait for 30 minutes or even longer, without being given an explanation; never mind an apology. Unfortunately, the patient’s time is not always respected.

Now in all fairness, if you’re the provider, it can be challenging to keep on schedule. After all, you never know what’s going to happen at the next appointment, or when you have to take a call.

But here’s the thing…

Most people don’t mind having to wait a bit; most expect it. However, if the wait goes beyond 40 plus minutes, most start to get annoyed. And rightfully so.

Because at the very least, staff could let people know about the delay, or offer to reschedule the appointment. It’s a simple gesture that lets people know they’re valued.

If patients would be viewed as customers, maybe they wouldn’t be left waiting as much! Perhaps, more offices would make the effort to show more consideration for people’s time and provide a better customer experience.

But now you might be thinking…

It’s one thing to respect a person’s time, but it’s another to treat them as a customer. Isn’t it “the customer is always right?” How could this possibly work in a medical setting?

Good Point

And a reasonable question!

But don’t worry! Treating your patients as customers doesn’t mean you agree to everything a patient may want from you, i.e., the purple pill or more pain medications.


It doesn’t mean you give in to every whim, nor that the customer is always right! There are some decisions you have to make because you are the expert, and that’s why people come to you.

What it does mean, however, is that patients take their seat at the table and take an active role in their healthcare. Because when people are treated like a customer would be, included in the decision making, they feel (and act) empowered.

Sadly, in the past, the healthcare system has more acted upon people, instead of including them. Decisions were made on their behalf, where they should have been included. Fortunately, that’s changing.

You want the best experience for your patients, and you want them to be “happy” with the service they receive in your clinic. I believe that seeing your patients as customers can help you achieve that.

It Will Do Three Things:

  1. You’ll deliver a better customer experience. When you treat a patient like you would a customer, it’s likely they have a better experience and report greater satisfaction with the service they receive. Long wait times and rushed visits leaves people feeling unappreciated and disrespected.
  2. It sets you apart from other clinics. Poor customer service is one of the biggest complaints in healthcare. People feel they’re not listened to, unappreciated, and rushed through their visits. When you deliver a better service than other clinics, your patients will take note.
  3. Better patient outcomes. The traditional role of the patient has been passive, waiting to see what will happen to them. But when people are actively engaged in their healthcare, things are different. You can expect more participation and higher compliance, which results in better patient outcomes.

Healthcare is more transparent today than it’s ever been before. And people have more choices than they ever had before.

They are taking on a more active role in their healthcare, paying more out of pocket, and demand more for their money. They ask more questions and expect to get answers.

The old model of the “passive patient” has run its course. It’s time to use a different framework. Thinking of patients as your customers won’t hurt; if anything, you’ll achieve better outcomes.


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.



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