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Patients, clients, users or customers: what should we call people attending sexual health services?
  1. Joanna Loudon1,
  2. Aisling Baird2,
  3. Zara Haider3,
  4. Eleanor Sein4,
  5. Indhu Prabakar5,
  6. Ailsa Gebbie6
  1. 1Medical Student, NHS Lothian Family Planning Services, 18 Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Subspecialty Trainee in Sexual and Reproductive Health, Centre for Contraception and Sexual Health, Victoria Health Centre, Nottingham, UK
  3. 3UCL Partners Darzi Fellow and Subspecialty Trainee in Sexual and Reproductive Health, NHS Camden Provider Services, The Margaret Pyke Centre, London, UK
  4. 4Medical Student, NHS Bristol Sexual Health Service, Central Health Clinic, Bristol, UK
  5. 5Subspecialty Trainee in Sexual and Reproductive Health, Liverpool Community Health/Liverpool Women's Hospital, Sexual & Reproductive Health, Liverpool, UK
  6. 6Consultant Gynaecologist, NHS Lothian Family Planning Services, 18 Dean Terrace, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Joanna Loudon, NHS Lothian Family Planning Services, 18 Dean Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 1NL, UK; j.loudon-2{at}


Background and methodology In sexual health clinics there is debate on whether to call service users ‘patients’ or ‘clients’ and this mirrors an ongoing dialogue in the medical literature. The authors undertook a questionnaire survey in five UK centres of clinic attendees and staff to assess their preference.

Results A total of 1428 clinic attendees and 250 staff members completed questionnaires. 61% of attendees who responded preferred ‘patient’, with 23% expressing no preference. Only 9% of respondents preferred the term ‘client’. 148 (59%) of all staff groups preferred the term ‘patient’ followed by 82 (33%) selecting ‘client’. No staff member opted for ‘customer’ or ‘user’ as the preferred term. The difference between preference for ‘patient’ between doctors and nurses was statistically significant, with most doctors preferring the term ‘patient’. Out of a total of 84 nurses, there was equal preference for ‘patient’ and ‘client’ (38 nurses in each group). Comments from attendees and staff who responded generally emphasised the concept of the ‘caring’ role of the health professional towards people attending the services.

Discussion and conclusions The majority of people attending sexual health clinics and medical and clerical staff working in these services expressed a preference to retain the title of ‘patient’. The main justification for this appeared to relate to the concept of caring for people. The authors therefore conclude that the terminology in sexual health services should revert to predominantly using the term ‘patient’.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.