Patients or Clients? Lets Put This Old Debate to Rest

The question comes up from time to time: Are the people who come to us for cosmetic procedures referred to as patients or clients? As far as I’m concerned there is no debate.

Those undergoing an aesthetic treatment by a licenced medical professional, who has the knowledge, judgement and skill to perform these procedures, should be referred to as a patient.

In a broader sense, all medical professionals care for patients. But that should also include nurses and doctors in medical aesthetics practices. We provide safe and ethical medical procedures in licensed medical clinics.

Simply stated, the term ‘patient’ is professionally appropriate.

Compassion and care tags ‘patient’ relations

When I was in nursing school, we referred to those under our care as patients. That continued in the hospitals where I worked as a Registered Nurse. I am not sure when or how this morphed, but client became a more common term for aesthetic providers. Most of whom are nurses.

I always found that odd.

Nurses performing these procedures are using their basic nursing skills and utilizing the nursing process to assess, diagnose, plan, evaluate and implement the procedure performed.

They must be knowledgeable about proper aseptic techniques and universal precautions to ensure the highest standards of patient care and safety.

Those basic nurse-patient skills apply whether one works in a hospital, public healthcare clinic or a private medical office.

A client, I would argue, portrays a business relationship. ‘Client’ would be a more suitable term in skincare boutiques or in spas. Those clients are the same as customers, a term you hear in retail environments, but not in medical clinics.

Yes, in the aesthetic practice, there is an exchange of payment for services. That could, I suppose, denote a client-like relationship. But in the context of medical services provided to make people feel better, the term ‘client’ lacks the special elements of care and compassion as in the term ‘patient.’

The debate over “patient versus clients” probably goes back almost 50 years.

In 1970, the nursing faculty at Wichita State University stated that ‘patient’ was inappropriate for the healthy person seeking health maintenance or advice. The American Nurses Association Code for Nurses would then adopt ‘client’ as a more universal term for practices outside a hospital or medical clinic.

A researcher and educator named Peter Wing took up the debate at an ambulatory back-pain clinic in a B.C. teaching hospital. He surveyed 101 people attending the clinic. Writing for the Canadian Medical Association, he showed that almost 75 percent of them preferred to be called patients.

An informal poll of professional practitioners in the Plastic Surgical Nursing Journal returned similar results.

So, those findings from both sides of the relationship do support the overall acceptance of the term patient in all hands-on healthcare practices. Which, of course, includes in our own practices where aesthetic procedures are medical treatments for those under our care.

For our patients.