Healing Environments

Words Mean a Lot: Person or Patient

(Trust me, I get to healthcare in the second paragraph.) There’s this weird trend at colleges and universities. They want parents to refer to their child as “my student” rather than “my daughter” or “my son.” I’ve never felt good about this use of language. Meg is not my student, she’s my daughter. She’s actually College of Charleston’s student. That change in language is powerful. Of course, the language works well for the institutions of higher learning because they want parents to withdraw and not engage the institution on behalf of your child. They want to deal with the students, not the parents. As you might expect, this is all positioned as an effort to empower the students and have them take accountability. That works great until the student needs something from the university and is unable to effect change. After all, these institutions are practiced at ignoring the needs of students. From my perspective, this shift in language from “child” to “student” supports the agenda of the university.

I thought about language a great deal last week when I was in Reno, Nevada interviewing physician leader and health system CEO, Tony Slonim of Renown Health. Over the course of a morning, Tony and I recorded 14 short video segments about different issues facing healthcare organizations. One of the things he spoke passionately about was the tendency for “patients” to stop being seen as “people” by healthcare professionals. The term “patient” is very limiting because it places the individual within a very specific context. The individual risks being defined by his or her illness, and, in the healthcare system, runs the risk of becoming a case, rather than a whole being with a life beyond this illness.

During our interview, Tony spoke candidly about his experience when he was treated successfully for throat cancer. Even as a healthcare professional, he shared that he had moments where he felt like a “patient” rather than a “person.” And Tony was an insider with access to the best care available.

Tony’s message is simple: we need to make sure we’re addressing the needs of the entire person from a mind, body and spirit perspective – including their ambitions, priorities, and dreams as individuals. We need to make sure that while under our care, patients don’t ever stop being people. This is an important message and one I was happy to hear being espoused by a health system CEO who also happens to be an MD.

In the weeks to come, I’ll share some of Tony’s video segments on my blog. He’s a remarkable man and it was an extraordinary experience for me to spend a couple of days with him discussing subjects that we are both passionate about. I don’t say it enough but I truly love my job and it is because of people like Tony Slonim.

1 comment on “Words Mean a Lot: Person or Patient

  1. “Patients don’t ever stop being people” is a very powerful statement!

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