For centuries, leaders have relied on speeches and writings to express ideas and rally people to action for a cause. Your everyday life and work are no different and language can have a powerful impact on relationships and alter your interactions with the people you provide health and behavioral health care services.
Language matters in care delivery and words are transforming and bridging the communication gap between consumers, medical providers and mental health practitioners especially at a time when there is greater integration of mental health services in primary care settings. At SageSurfer, we have given a great deal of thought while designing our consumer-centric platform about the impact of labels and how to help providers best communicate with consumers and their natural supports to deliver the best treatment.
We’ve discovered some people believe words used to describe those receiving services are not interchangeable and have different meanings depending on the professional and setting delivering the service. It’s not so much about semantics but rather a glimpse into how people are represented which can convey a particular philosophical approach to treatment. Additionally, if everyone collaborating on a care team can create a consensus around various terms for those they serve, a communications fluency is developed and can lessen confusion and better engage people.
There’s absolutely no right or wrong answer here but an understanding about the value of terms and their underlying assumptions can improve working relationships for everyone involved in the delivery of services. Here’s what we have discovered in helping people engage in treatment wherever they are across the healthcare continuum.
Consumers drive how healthcare systems are designed and delivered and are people who have made or might make a care decision in the near future. Consumers have clear preferences and ideas regarding their behavioral health and health needs. They also choose and enroll in insurance plans, select individual or facility providers and decide on their participation and goals for treatment. Consumers also determine whether or not their care is satisfactory and if they need a second opinion or a new care provider. They are also buyers and write checks for insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments or indirectly purchase healthcare services through their employers or federal, state and local taxes. Consumers can also assert their choices by purchasing care from alternative healing practitioners.
Clients are a sub-group of consumers who are actively receiving behavioral health treatment and make determinations about care options in partnership with their provider.
Patients are consumers who are receiving medical and/or behavioral health services in a primary care or other healthcare settings. This is the most recognizable term used by physicians, nurses and other medical professionals. At the intersection of behavioral health and medical care the term “patient” is often heard and in integrated behavioral health/primary care settings, such as when a person with heart disease is receiving counseling for depression and alcohol use at a medical clinic.
Overall the term “consumer” most accurately describes someone across various settings and who is proactive and engaged with a professional in medical and/or mental health treatment, even if they are not actively in care and contemplating their future healthcare need.
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