Views And Reviews Personal View

What “girls” and “queers” can teach patients

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 07 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4759
  1. Michael L Millenson, president
  1. Health Quality Advisors, Highland Park, Illinois
  1. mlmillenson{at}

It’s time to reclaim “patient” to signify a rich, collaborative relationship, says Michael L Millenson

It’s not surprising that the word “patient” makes some activists uncomfortable. The Latin root “patiens” (“he who suffers”) suggests passivity, particularly when paired with “doctore” (“he who teaches”). Small wonder, then, that physicians have traditionally viewed patient centeredness as meaning that they provide “caring custody” while acting as “rational agents” on patients’ behalf.1

Seeking to shake up these old assumptions, we clumsily ask providers to create a relationship centered on the person and family or care giver, with everyone becoming “co-producers” of care.2 Unfortunately, this mishmash only muddies what should be clear. What patient or doctor, after all, would describe themselves as “co-producers” of chemotherapy?

More importantly, the awkward terminology deflects a focus on …

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