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How terminology can impact medical ethics

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In the field of medical aesthetics, there is an increasing trend to replace the term ‘patient’ with the word ‘client'.

So says SE1 Medical Aesthetics managing director Emma Costello. She continues: “It doesn’t seem right to me that experienced healthcare professionals should be referring to a person they medically assess for medical aesthetic procedures as a ‘client’.”

A ‘client’ is defined as someone who receives professional services from an organisation or person. Says Costello: “While this definition is not incorrect, as a non-healthcare professional, it blows my mind that someone who studies for all those years would so casually drop the standards. The only profession in the world having the privilege of using the relationship term for those who they treat as ‘patients’ are those who are trained in healthcare. And what an honour it is, after all of those years of training!”

She feels the use of the term is particularly surprising considering the number of non-medics administering anti-wrinkle treatments.

“It becomes even more astonishing that the term should be dropped when the UK medical aesthetics industry is so warped with the addition of laypersons without a healthcare background or qualification also injecting the general public. This is when the word ‘patient’ becomes critically important as they certainly cannot refer to those who they treat as ‘patients.’ The skill set that develops over many years of training to perfect the patient/doctor/nurse/surgeon/dentist relationship is paramount for a successful outcome."

Costello maintains there is also the issue of the strict boundaries between medical ethics and business relationships. “When a ‘patient’ enters the clinic room, the healthcare professional is in control. They use their knowledge, expertise and experience to manage the expectations of those seeking cosmetic medical advice, guiding the outcome to best suit after a thorough assessment. When a ‘client’ walks into the clinic room, they are more likely to be in the driving seat. The ‘client’ knows what they want and is not necessarily looking for advice. This type of professional service is much more transactional and seemingly less medically ethical.

“I don’t think there is a single surgeon in the land working privately, that would refer to the people they treat as clients, so why are aesthetics healthcare professionals doing so?"

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