Over at DiabetesDaily, there's been a series of discussions going on about How the Internet is Changing Diabetes Care — a topic about which I have many opinions (surprise, surprise). I was particularly intrigued to see Manny Hernandez's piece about the implications of referring to us all as "consumers" rather than "patients." He doesn't much like it. I have a different take.
Manny's concern is that viewing us as "consumers" puts a "bigger emphasis on how much profit the patient can make a company, which can lead to less-than-optimal decisions on behalf of the patient later on."
The flip side of that, I believe, is the notion of "consumer = customer," as in The Customer is Always Right. Isn't it about time that healthcare providers and organizations started treating us "end-users" like valued customers — instead of just pampering the "insiders" who make the policy decisions and write the prescriptions? We end-users ARE their customers, after all!
The way I see it, there's also a semantic issue at work here, the division between:
— healthy people who "consume" certain health offerings on an episodic basis (Health Care Consumers)
— people living with chronic health conditions (Patients)
People in the latter group (which includes all of us with diabetes) are for obvious reasons more intensely concerned with daily health issues, and generally more "plugged in" to health on the Internet. That makes us the most significant group of healthcare consumers, no?
[Photo: submitted by Terence for the TuDiabetes Diabetes Supplies Art campaign]
And let's not forget, "Patients" aren't what they used to be. In today's world of medical advances, there is a whole new definition of the word: in the old days, patients were people who were laid up in the hospital. They were either healed of their ailment, and were able to get up and walk out (thus leaving their "patient" status behind), or they died. Period.
But today, there are millions of people living active, productive lives with chronic health conditions — up to 133 million Americans, according to some sources. It was author Jill Sklar who opened my eyes to just how fortunate we are, as the phenomenon of surviving and thriving with a chronic illness is a rather new development in the world:
"Surviving chronic illness is a relatively new concept in the history of civilization. Looking back over the last millennia, most individuals were lucky to survive long enough to reach adulthood," she writes, pointing out that Lance Armstrong with his LiveStrong campaign was the first to "pierce the American psyche by adopting a symbol of survivorship."
Today, I see a "Patient" versus a "Health Care Consumer" as someone with a chronic health condition who, due to that condition, is a lifelong, incessant consumer of health and medical products and services.
And there's something else: the "Consumerizing" of health and medicine means that we can now shop for diabetes supplies at places like Amazon.com and eBay; we no longer have to go hunting for some specialized medical supply store. Ailments and illnesses have come out of the closet, and I for one think that's a healthy development.
So am I a Patient? Absolutely. Am I also a Health Care Consumer? Yes, of course: one of the most important kinds — the "sick" ones — because I need to consume this stuff much more intensely than "healthy people" do.