Are Patients Also Customers?

Businesses are usually advised to be more customer-centric to increase customer satisfaction and encourage brand loyalty. In business, the customer is king.

Due to this ideology, many are now advocating for hospitals and healthcare providers, including places like an eating disorder center, to become more customer-centric as well. They argue that doctors and nurses must go out of their way to make their patients happy. However, there are also those who believe that patients should not be treated as customers and here are some reasons why.

Customers go to places willingly, while patients go to hospitals mostly out of necessity.

In an article on, author and scientist Lynn Globin says that “customers go places willingly, more than likely for something pleasurable” and that patients go to “out of necessity, a fear for their life possibly, an experience that is not expected to be pleasurable”.

This already shows a difference in expectations. Customers go somewhere expecting to enjoy themselves while most patients go to the doctor or acquire nurse triage services only because they have to.

Patients are not always right.

In business, the customer is always right. However, that is not often the case in the healthcare industry. Patients seek help because they need professional care that only medical practitioners can provide. Unless they are doctors themselves, most patients do not understand the technical aspects of their condition.

Shirie Leng, an anesthesiologist, writes in her article for, that although patients should demand good care “that care might mean denying the patient what the patient thinks he or she needs. The doctor is not a servant; she does not have to do everything the patient wants. She is obligated to do everything the patient needs.”

Patients can’t always demand for a positive outcome.

Patients have the right to be treated with respect and to receive the best healthcare possible. However, unlike customers buying a product, they can’t demand for a positive outcome because outcomes vary. In her article, Shirie Leng also says that results of medical services can sometimes be illness or death but this doesn’t mean that the service provided wasn’t a good one. However, this doesn’t stop someone from calling a wrongful death attorney if their loved one passes away in a hosptial.

Patient well-being does not always correlate with customer satisfaction.

Medical practitioners have an oath to do what is best for their patients and sometimes the best is not what will usually satisfy them. Dr. Scott Haig, Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, says in his article for Time that “It is not exactly good business, selling painful best choices to customers. But it can be the best medicine.” He goes on to say that doctors have to go beyond customer satisfaction to protect the patient’s well-being and that good medicine means doing what’s right for those in need.

Caring for people is a partnership, not a business relationship.

While medicine is considered to be under the service industry and patients are paying for medical services, they cannot be considered customers in the traditional sense. Dr. Patricia Gabow, former Denver Health CEO, said in an article in that considering patients as customers “implies that it is like buying a wastebasket at Target. But it’s much more than that. What is coming out of the experience can be a matter of life and death”. More than a customer and supplier relationship, she says that “caring for people is a partnership between the provider, the patient, and the family.”

Patients do have a right to be treated with respect. They have a right to receive the best possible healthcare. However, their circumstances differ from those experienced by typical customers and so they should also be treated accordingly, with humanity and not just good customer service. In healthcare, lives are at stake and doctors must do what they have to do to save lives even if it isn’t necessarily what their patients will deem as satisfying.

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