Language matters. Thus when market language is imposed on the health care system, it seems natural to transform patients into consumers, and patient rights into consumer rights. But patients are not consumers who pick and choose among physicians and treatments on the basis of price and quality. Patients are sick and vulnerable people who are truly not themselves and are incapable of shopping around for the best deal.
Discussions surrounding patient engagement and empowerment often appear to use the terms “patient” and “consumer” interchangeably. But do the two terms hold the same meaning, or is a “patient” a passive actor in the health care arena and a “consumer” an informed, rational decision-maker? Has there been a shift in our usage of the two terms that aligns with the increasing commercialization of health care in the U.S.