5 Types of Patients (and How They’ve Changed in the Last 15 Years)

by Tera Tuten on February 5, 2013

5 Types of PatientsFive years ago, patients were just starting to make use of apps and smartphones to better inform themselves about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment at home and on-the-fly in clinics, hospitals, or wherever symptoms started to occur.

Ten years ago, patients were first starting to use the Internet en-masse to research their conditions, possible treatments, and even perused physician ratings while shopping around for a doctor.

Fifteen years ago, patients had far less access to medical information – Medical professionals were seen as the primary and sometimes sole source of insight for patients. And treatment for a number of common life-threatening ailments was significantly less advanced.

Here’s a look at the types of patients medical professionals encounter, contrasted with how they’ve changed since the 1990s:

The Independent Skeptic

One of the toughest to deal with, this type of patient is naturally skeptical about expert advice. One of the reasons for this is that such patients often form and rely on their own opinions after learning of a diagnosis or treatment options.

How they’ve changed:

Increasingly, this type of patient expects to have the final word on decisions about their wellbeing and prefers to keep medical professionals at arm’s-length. More and more, this type of patient is likely to seek second, third, even fourth opinions. In the last 5 years, online research – sometimes “while their doctor waits” – ends up being the second or third “opinion.” Which brings us to our next archetype…

The Researcher

Not necessarily a negative, this type of patient will take the time to look up the best doctors, the latest treatments, and is probably more up-to-date on news of any given clinical trial than you are. This type of patient definitely expects to participate in decisions, often due to feeling that their research has entitled them to have a more collegial relationship with healthcare professionals.

How they’ve changed:

As doctors and nurses have taken on more shifts and been forced to do more with less, the right combination of extra research from patients and restraint (in thinking they “know everything”) from those same patients could actually help bring additional ideas and options to the attention of open-minded medical professionals.


The Passive Dependent

Contrary to “The Skeptic”, the passive patient prefers to leave all aspects of health care decisions in the hands of their medical professional. More than just blind faith or lethargy, this type of patient honestly feels that their nurse, nurse practitioner or doctor knows best.

How they’ve changed:

As medicine, treatment, and the latest research have become ever-more complex and readily-available, this type of patient has little or no interest in comprehending or discussing treatment risks and benefits. Medical professionals should be on the lookout to ensure the “dependant” part of the passive dependant patient doesn’t evolve into “the clinger”, latching on to caregivers to the point of excessive phone calls and asking to cut corners or bend the rules with treatment.

“I’m flexible”

Perhaps the most efficient patient to interact with, this practical person has no interest in building a long-term relationship with their medical professional or garnering emotional support. They typically have infrequent health needs, only seeing a doctor when they have an immediate medical need.

How they’ve changed:

Seeing all doctors as “more-or-less” equally competent and often being budget-conscious, this type of patient is likely to choose a physician based on lowest cost.

The Open-minded “Explorer”

This person sees diagnosis and treatment as an honest partnership between doctor and patient with solid emotional support. This patient is more likely to want to explore the potential spiritual realm of healing and views medicine as more of an art than a science.

How they’ve changed:

More than ever, this type of patient wants a personal connection with their medical professional. They also want their doctor to take the time to thoroughly explain the healthcare process and bridge the gap between their own practices and alternative therapies.

What are your thoughts about our roundup of patient attributes? Any we left out? Do you have any stories about patients with a whole different set of characteristics (or an especially good example of any of the above?)

Have your say in the comments area below…

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