What's in a name

 
What's in a name ? 
 
Many in the health care world want to dump the term "patient". The progressive view is that "patient" is too passive a description in our consumer society where the modernising public sector is encouraged to adopt private sector ways and think of people as customers. Other parts of the public sector have "agonised" over language. In social services we used to refer to clients but that went out of favour as the profession moved away from a counselling approach to a more pragmatic form of help. We now refer to service users.  Our colleagues in residential homes for older people refer to residents but some radicals  think, "tenants " would be more empowering. At the same time colleagues in housing argue that tenants of sheltered housing should be called residents to emphases being part of the local community. In day centres, we have had clients, service users and attenders. Domiciliary providers prefer " clients" as it makes the service sound more professional.The up market private sector nursing and residential homes describe those who live in their accommodation as "guests". 

The language that organisations use is an attempt to reflect their philosophy, hence managers preoccupation with the need for the appropriate collective noun. 

Will the integration of health and social care require us to agree what we call the people who we help,support and care for? If not patients will they be service users or will we go back to clients? Residents, tenants, clients and service users can all currently also be, "out patients ". Will they still be patients whilst in hospital?

Will a change of name change the relationship between health care professionals and the rest of us? It's the old chicken and egg question.  What comes first a change of attitudes leading to a change of language or a change of language leading to a change of attitude? Maybe it's enough it's being debated, after all what's in a name.
 
Blair McPherson form director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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1 Comments

Lesley Cook 2 Years Ago
Thought provoking stuff Blair. Thanks for that. Within my practice I try always to use the term 'children and families'. I find the term 'service users' a bit cold. I am a great believer that language makes a huge difference to how people are perceived and, indeed perceive themselves. The one that regularly irritates me is 'disabled people'. The term suggests that the disability defines the whole person. I much prefer to talk about a person with a disability. The disability is only one part of the person.