Are patients “customers”?

There’s a growing movement in medicine to start thinking of patients as customers and to develop a customer satisfaction mentality in medical practices and hospitals. William Maples, M.D., Executive Director and Chief Experience Officer for The Institute for Healthcare Excellence, gives us his input on the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in mindset.

Thinking of patients as customers enables a shift to true patient-centered care where physicians and clinical teams define and execute care plans to restore health with their patients. Having a customer mindset will create an environment where we truly serve patients and meet their total needs. This includes not only medical/diagnostic but also spiritual and cultural needs. This will allow patients to buy-in to their treatment plans and improves compliance with the overall care plan.

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This also leads to not only improved health, due to increased compliance, and but also eliminates needless waste from care plans that the patient doesn’t buy into. Engaging patients as partners also provides another critical set of eyes and ears, which will enhance the overall safety of care. The financial benefits are also significant and a result of increased patient loyalty and trust.

The doctor-patient relationship extends much deeper than a customer relationship, as it centers on restoring health and life. When patients come in for care they’re often in times of great need and vulnerability. The relationship between doctors and patients has a more sacred meaning and requires deep kindness, compassion, trust, and empathy. Although customers can be well served, the key elements of kindness, compassion, trust, and empathy are not essential for all customer relationships.

The customer mindset does not pollute the doctor-patient relationship, as long as they remember that the doctor-patient relationship is enveloped by kindness compassion, trust, and empathy.

Learn more about the work that Dr. Maples conducts here.