Patient, client or customer

I’ve noticed a growing fashion in the dental industry to refer to the people who we have always called patients as customers. My feelings about this are mixed.

I very much welcome a move away from the paternalistic attitudes of the past where patients were told what was best for their health without discussion and issues around confidence and self esteem were ignored. The 21st century relationship between dentists and our patients feels much more like a partnership of equals and, as a profession, we are much more respectful of a patient’s autonomy to decide what is best for them when they have been given the facts about their options. Maybe this is the driving force between the abandonment, in some circles, of the word ‘patient’.

‘Customer’ though feels slightly wrong. It takes away from the essentially caring and health based principles that should underpin all dentistry. Don’t get me wrong, I love providing cosmetic dental treatments to patients who want them and I value the boost to their self esteem and confidence almost as much as the health benefit of non-cosmetic treatments. Essentially though, the relationship will only work if we respect our patients ability to make their own choices about their health and they respect our advice and know it is given with their health and wellbeing in mind. 

The description of ‘client’ has also started making an appearance in the dental world. I quite like it but old habits are hard to break and I’ve been using ‘patient’ since starting dental school in 1995. At the end of the day I’m not sure it matters nearly as much as how we speak and behave towards to our patients/clients/customers!