In an attempt to improve health outcomes and create more patient-centered health care systems, the concept of patient-centered care has increasingly merged with the metaphor of patients as consumers. This is something which, according to Michael K. Gusmano and Karen J. Maschke, two Hastings Center research scholars, and Hasting Center President, Mildred Z. Solomon, “is conceptually confused and potentially harmful.” 

In an article published by Health Affairs titled, “Patient-centered care, yes; patients as consumers, no,” the authors detail why the consumer metaphor “wrongly assumes that health care is a market in the usual understanding of that term.” A recent press release summarizes the article, sharing four reasons why the metaphor is inappropriate:

According to the press release, this argument against patients as consumers is being adopted by advocates of market solutions to health care costs as well as critics of government health care regulation. 

The authors believe it is a disservice to patients (and the industry at large) to consider them consumers. To better understand the disparities between patients and consumers, the authors dig into the differences between the health care system and typical consumer markets. One example the authors look at is the cost structure. In health care, the cost structure is not driven by consumer demand in the same way it is in a traditional consumer market.  

“Even if health care were to be made more like a conventional market – for example, by increasing the number of competitive health care choices – patients still could not act like consumers because they would often lack the time and knowledge to ‘shop’ for different options.” 

According to the authors, health care prices increase when physicians are compensated based on each services they provide “and the U.S. government’s failure to sufficiently negotiate prices of hospital, physicia...