See the paragraphs below from this weeks New England Journal of Medicine.
The words we use to explain our roles are powerful. They set expectations and shape behavior. This change in the language of medicine has important and deleterious consequences. The relationships between doctors, nurses, or any other medical professionals and the patients they care for are now cast primarily in terms of a commercial transaction. The consumer or customer is the buyer, and the provider is the vendor or seller. To be sure, there is a financial aspect to clinical care. But that is only a small part of a much larger whole, and to people who are sick, it's the least important part.
The words “consumer” and “provider” are reductionist; they ignore the essential psychological, spiritual, and humanistic dimensions of the relationship — the aspects that traditionally made medicine a “calling,” in which altruism overshadowed personal gain. Furthermore, the term “provider” is deliberately and strikingly generic, designating no specific role or type or level of expertise.
Each medical professional — doctor, nurse, physical therapist, social worker, and more — has specialized training and skills that are not recognized by the all-purpose term “provider,” which carries no resonance of professionalism. There is no hint of the role of doctor as teacher with special knowledge to help the patient understand the reasons for his or her malady and the possible ways of remedying it, no honoring of the work of the nurse as a nurturer with unique expertise whose close care is essential to healing. Rather, the generic term “provider” suggests that doctors and nurses and all other medical professionals are interchangeable. “Provider” also signals that care is fundamentally a prepackaged commodity on a shelf that is “provided” to the “consumer,” rather than something personalized and dynamic, crafted by skilled professionals and tailored to the individual patient.
When we ourselves are ill, we want someone to care about us as people, not as paying customers, and to individualize our treatment according to our values. Despite the lip service paid to “patient-centered care” by the forces promulgating the new language of medicine, their discourse shifts the focus from the good of the individual to the exigencies of the system and its costs. Marketplace and industrial terms may be useful to economists, but this vocabulary should not redefine our profession. “Customer,” “consumer,” and “provider” are words that do not belong in teaching rounds and the clinic. We believe doctors, nurses, and others engaged in care should eschew the use of such terms that demean patient and professional alike and dangerously neglect the essence of medicine.