Traditionally, the sociological concept of the relationship between practitioner
and patient has been the sick role, in which the physician as practitioner is in
charge, and the patient is obligated to cooperate with the physician's prescribed
regimen. More recently, this power relationship has been redefined by some from a
consumerist perspective, in which physician and patient bargain over the terms of
the relationship. Although each brings different resources to the encounter, neither
participant is automatically in charge. Data from a sample of 466 members of the
public and 86 physicians are used to assess the extent of reported public attitudes
and behaviors that challenge the physician's traditional power, as well as physicians'
reported response to such attitudes and events, as evidence of the public's propensity
to a consumerist relationship and physicians' willingness to accept it. Among both
the public and physicians, substantial minorities express beliefs and report actions
congruent with this consumerist perspective. However, different demographic and health
belief variables emerge in the two groups as explanatory factors. Doctor-patient
power relationships are seen to depend on characteristics of the actors as well as
on the illness situation.