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Clients vs. Patients

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By: Marc Ronert, MD, PhD
Posted: January 29, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of

Abstract: Knowing the difference between a patient and a client can be an essential distinction for a medical aesthetics business. By distinguishing the different needs and treatments necessary for patients versus clients, you can stay on track with the business services you provide, as well as avoid sticky ethical issues. Both clients and patients need to be able to trust you, but knowing what you should expect from them, as well as what they expect from you, can really aid in forming a trusting relationship.

There is a fine—and often blurred—line between the client as a necessary source of revenue for a medical practice and the patient as a human being seeking medical attention. Nowhere is this ethical dilemma more pronounced than in plastic surgery. While both sides of the argument certainly have negative aspects, it is true that both also have fundamental elements necessary for the success of any plastic surgery practice.

Ethical differences

As with any medical professional, plastic surgeons are held to a code of ethics that must be recognized as superseding the physician’s own interests. According the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, physicians, including plastic surgeons, must be “dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and right.”

The code goes on to say, “a physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.” This code of ethics, to which every practicing medical professional must adhere, clearly leaves no doubt that a patient’s rights take precedence over any personal benefits the physician may realize. However, this question of ethics is actually much more complex.

A fundamental difference

The fundamental difference between a patient and a client is as follows: a patient presents a physician with a medical condition seeking a diagnosis. It is the physician’s obligation to find the right diagnosis and subsequently treat that patient in order to restore a healthy, normal condition. Without finding the right diagnosis, a treatment could potentially harm the patient, or the harm could arise from not treating the patient at all.