Redefining the term Patient

Does the term ‘patient’ still reflect the mental health care environment or is it time to evolve?

Recently I have had some rich dialogue with various colleagues regarding the term ‘patient’. This term carries with it many meanings, which some may argue further creates the stigma experienced in mental health care. A few days ago when the question was asked of me of what my thoughts are on the term and what my opinion was of a new term, I had no satisfactory answer which would be to my liking.

In the aftermath and my reflections, I read the following quote “The word “patient” conjures up a vision of quiet suffering, of someone lying patiently as the user of healthcare services and the provider” (Julia Neuberger).  This further validated that perhaps it is time to rethink the term as mental health care is evolving but still felt at loss of what would my opinion be. My next thought was to identify the ideal principles of mental health care, describing its characteristics and what each person would consistently experience, to assist in developing an answer to the question. I came up with the some of what I believe are fundamental characteristics of mental health care:

  • Care which is ‘patient’-driven
  • Care planning which places the person being cared for at the center, where the treatment plan is being developed with the person rather than for the person
  • Partnership among the person receiving care, their families and the healthcare providers
  • People are more than their illness, as this is a part of the person and not the their entire being
  • People with mental health issues come with many assets and healthcare providers should explore and tap into these assets
  • Availability of choices throughout care
  • Viewing people with a mental illness as part of the solution, therefore viewing the person as an expert by experience
  • Continuously exploring how the healthcare team can empower the ‘patient’, generate hope, and show trust

If we can ensure the aspects of care described above are the norm rather than the exception, it means we can enhance the mental health care environment to be one which thrives on recovery, where clinicians and ‘patients’ work together to help people live better with long-term conditions. Then perhaps in our paradigm shift for ‘patients’ to become active participants, partnering in their care, the ‘patient’ is no longer a passive recipient of care and so ‘patient’ no longer describes the role and ‘participant’ or ‘service-user’ may be more aligned with the ongoing transformation of mental health care. As mental health care continues to evolve and adopt recovery-oriented care, is it time to evolve the term ‘patient’ to better reflect the care expectations?