Choosing a term to use in your practice is one of the most important decisions you will make. It will have implications for the way you communicate with your patients and set the tone for your professional relationship.
The word "patient" is the most common term used in medical practices, and is primarily the word psychiatrists, nurses and other mental health professionals use to refer to their patients.
While it has a strong medical connotation, the word "client" is more general and may conjure more transactional images of lawyers, hairdressers or social workers; all of whom also have clients.
In the mental health field, "client" was adopted as a rejection of the medicinal significance of the word "patient." A client seeks the assistance of a counselor as more of a confidential teammate to help improve a bio-psycho-social aspect of their life.
A patient is someone with a medical condition seeking a diagnosis and treatment. A client is someone who wants to receive help from a therapist and pays for the service.
As a healthcare industry, physicians often have to choose between the profit margins they can make and the ethical and medical backgrounds of the patients that they treat. This choice can be a delicate balance. The decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, and it can be hard to say no to some patients, even when you think it is the right thing to do. It is imperative that physicians be aware of the importance of this distinction, and that they ask themselves whether they can honor their commitment to ethical and medical practices.