The language we use is important because there are many possible meanings for words. Context is not always enough to clarify the meaning.
A patient is a person who is getting medical care. It can mean a person that undergoes some sort of action, and also could mean a sufferer or victim. Adding insult to injury, the word patient also means the acceptance or tolerance of discomfort, inconveniences, problems or suffering without complaint.
A consumer on the other hand, is someone who buys a product or service. It also can mean someone who eats or uses things.
Sometimes the unclear or duplicate meaning will convey unspoken expectations. This makes how we use language, a way in which beliefs and underlying attitudes can be reinforced in a subtle way.
Take our medical system for example. The underlying attitudes of this society where medical experts are concerned involves ideas such as;
They can help/save us
They know best
They have our best interests at heart
We will be ok if we comply
They are extremely busy people
So we are not just people receiving medical care (a patient), we are also undergoing actions (also a patient), and are suffering and/or victims (again, also a patient). But most of all, we are expected to accept those actions done to us without complaint (be patient).
Using the word patient in relation to medical care is designed to reinforce the idea we will accept and comply with said medical care.
This prevailing idea is behind the concept of what it means to be a patient in our society. It is why there are problems when we decide to not accept or comply with medical care.
"Are you kidding!? But we have the right to choose!"
Yes that is correct - we do have the right. What happens when we insist on exercising (and following through with) that right?
Test it out yourself. Attend a hospital and question a doctor’s recommendations of the course of action which will be done to you. Opt for the method the doctor does not personally recommend. Try it and see what happens. Most medical professionals will not like this. After all they went to university and are educated and qualified whereas we are not. Do this enough times and you will recognise a common trend in their responses.
So what would happen if most people in our society stopped using the word patient to refer to someone getting medical care? What if we started using the word consumer instead?
As consumers, we get to decide what we consume from a buffet without being harangued for our decisions
What about customer - a person who buys goods and services but also is considered to be a person one has to deal with? How about a client - a person who uses the services of a professional or pays for advice from said professional? Consider situations where we, in the role of consumer, might disagree and not accept with services provided (such as a questionable recommendation from a car mechanic).
Language is capable of bringing about change. Switch the words up and eventually the prevailing belief behind what it is to seek out and receive medical care would change to one more closely aligned with the concept of what it means to be a consumer in our society. A patient has limited rights, and a customer is always right. Think about it.
On a final (and side note), there might be less liability for doctors and less medical malpractice suits, if society expects people to make their own decisions. Maybe then, the ones who question and actively seek out information before decision making will be met with appreciation rather than annoyance.