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P is for People

rachelCI attended a regional NHS networking event earlier this week and it got me thinking about the language used in health research.

In short, there appear to be two schools of thought: those who talk about ‘patients’, and those whose interest lies with the ‘public’. I’d even go as far as to say that these two groups are often talked about as separate, unrelated species and suspect the divide has in part come about due to differing research ethics requirements (resulting in the two groups being treated in distinct and separate ways). There is rarely mention of ‘people’ and certainly no mention of ‘customers’.

There’s something rather clinical and cold about the word ‘patient’. Both ‘public’ and ‘patient’ also imply a certain homogeneity; a group-behaviour and mentality. There’s no real implication of individualism.

I do however like the idea of promoting use of the term ‘customer’ as it puts the person at the centre of the service, but I can also understand concerns that may arise due to its associations with the private sector and subsequent links with profit and productivity. ‘People’ however (at least in my view) gives a stronger feeling of diversity and individual identity, without the commercial connotations. It’s also more inclusive as it can encompass staff and the broader community.

So let’s talk more about people and less about patients. So what I hear you ask? Well, as my colleague Louise suggested in one of her recent blogs, I believe that we should be talking in a language that the people who are at the heart of the service understand and use in order to deliver health services which are people-centred first and foremost.


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