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Are we patients, or consumers?

Manny Hernandez, founder of tuDiabetes and author of the upcoming book, Ning for Dummies, wrote an excellent post over at Diabetes Daily last week: “Call me patient, not consumer”.

I’ve been thinking about his words all week and finally have a few minutes now to put together some of my own thoughts on the subject.

We’ve all spent a lot of time thinking about the “patient vs consumer” issue here at WEGO Health, because it is such an important one to our community. Manny eloquently makes the case for “patient” and his argument is one I’ve heard echoed in many arenas of the online health community.

Manny’s post got me thinking, how many times have I introduced myself by saying, “I’m Marie Connelly, Community Manager for WEGO Health. We’re a new consumer-health website”?


I really started thinking about that phrase, and why I use it. I suppose the answer is complicated.

For starters, the word patient really isn’t enough. WEGO Health aims to be a resource for patients, yes, but also for caregivers, for health professionals, for anyone actively engaged in the online health community.

But there’s more to the word consumer than the fact that covers a broader range of people than “patient” does.

When I think of the word consumer, I tend to think of it in the sense of “Consumer Reports”. Consumers have power. Consumers can make or break companies. They can educate themselves about the options, and choose accordingly. I think we’re kind of blasé about it at this point, but it’s still a pretty revolutionary idea to apply the word consumer to health care settings.

Of course, Manny is right, we cannot entirely separate the concept of “consumer” from ideas of profit and money—certainly there are a great many situations where we need to be seen as patients, as people in need of care, as opposed to cost centers or sources of revenue for hospitals, insurance companies, or even Health 2.0 start ups.

The reason I struggle with the word patient, however, is that it so rarely stands alone. When we are patients, it is almost always in relation to something or someone else: “patients at Mass General Hospital”, or “patients of Doctor Taylor’s”, or “Alzheimer’s patients”.

Are we still patients when we’re not in the doctor’s office? I don’t really know the answer to that question. I do worry that “patient” is a word that puts our illness before our individuality, that it allows us to be defined, or allows others to define us, by our disease.

As I mentioned before, this dichotomy has been a source of great debate here at WEGO Health.

Ultimately, neither of these terms fully describes who we’re trying to reach. After some intense brainstorming, we came up with the term “Health Activist”, a phrase we believe combines the best of both worlds.

Health Activists are “consumers”, in the sense that they’ve taken the time to inform themselves about their condition, or health area of interest, but they’re also “patients”, people who have deep, personal experience with health.

They’re active and engaged, they’re trying to help, to educate, to increase awareness. You can read all about Health Activists here.

Did we make the right call? What do you think about the words “consumer”, “patient” and “health activist”? Let us know by leaving a comment here, or joining in the discussion over on WEGO Health.

So Manny, thank you for prodding us to always be aware and mindful, your post was truly inspirational and an excellent reminder. I’ll be certain to call you patient in the future, but I hope it’s ok if I call you a Health Activist too.

2 thoughts on “Are we patients, or consumers?

  1. Hi Marie,
    I am glad the “Call me patient” post got you to write this amazing post.

    In regards to your question:
    “Are we still patients when we’re not in the doctor’s office?”
    if you are a person with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, I think the answer is Yes.

    However, are we more than patients? I think the answer to that is also Yes.

    Today, I was leaving a comment about this very topic on Amy Tenderich’s blog:

  2. Manny, thanks for stopping by, and for sharing Amy’s post, the conversation around all of this is fascinating!

    Great point too, about those living with chronic conditions, they definitely necessitate thinking as patients more often than not.

    Not sure if I’m articulating that very clearly, would love to hear what other folks think!

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