Is health a biological or social issue?
Changes in society, of how people live, have ultimately led to a ‘medical model’ of health. Trends of human evolution have led to urbanisation and industrialisation. Beginning over 12000 years ago (Halliday & Davey 2010) when ancestral humans began settlements and left their nomadic lifestyles behind reaching a climax sometime during 2006-2007 when for the first time in human history more people were living in cities and urban environments than in the countryside (Halliday & Davey 2010). The changes in sanitation, education and food supply that these trends brought have had a direct impact on health. As it became noted and recorded, correlations between good sanitation and lower disease rates could be seen amongst others. The research of these correlations and the advances in technology gave birth to the Biomedical model of health (Clark R, 2012).
The biomedical model of health is currently the most emphasised way of western medicine, the most polarised of all health care models. It forms the basis for the NHS and many other western health care systems. In its purest form biomedicine believes that science and ‘professional knowledge’ are of the utmost importance. Beliefs of the lay person are considered ill informed, irrational and sometimes superstitious – the biomedical model devalues these opinions (Clark R, 2012) .
Being scientific the focus is on the body of the individual, not the person. It is the doctor’s job to diagnose the symptoms and classify the ailment through measurable means and the aide of technology. The professionals focus on disease having a specific cause, something wrong in the body in a specific location, to be found and fixed. Each can be treated like the next and the person whose body is ill has no impact on the biology of the abnormality. In this light the approach to health is biologically reductionist, and biomedical practitioners could be criticised for being more interested in symptoms than people (The OU 2012, 1.6). Greenhaulgh and Hurwitz describe the problem as follows:
“At its most arid, modern medicine lacks a metric for existential qualities such as the inner hurt, despair, hope, grief and moral pain that frequently accompany, and often indeed constitute, the illnesses from which people suffer” (Greenhaulgh And Hurwitz, 1999 p.56)
With a framework emphasising the physical nature of disease the biomedical model considers health to be ‘absence of disease’ and to be ‘functionally fit’. That is the wealth of a nation seems to be directly related to the health of its productive workforce, due to this the biomedical model is aimed at being curative and remedial; diagnose, classify and fix to get that member of society back into productive labour. Treatment should be neutral and free of judgement based on this model, but it cannot be said that all professionals have no bias to all patients (The OU 2012, 1.6) (Clark R, 2012).
Contradictory to that, the sociomedical model of health tries to encompass the environmental and social factors that could attribute to the well being of a person. It is currently being further acknowledged by more and more health care providers who are in agreement that stress factors, lifestyle and housing conditions amongst other issues can have a direct impact on health (Crinson 2007). It is evident with issues such as bulimia and anorexia that psychological components are also in force so the biomedical approach alone wouldn’t solve the problem. The sociomedical model puts focus on prevention of ill health rather than treating the individual after it has occurred (The OU 2012, 1.7).
The idea that poor health is related to certain social factors means that to address those factors could prevent some illness and disease. For example a patient with asthma could be treated by the biomedical model in terms of relievers (medication) but if that person was living in damp conditions the...
References: The OU 2012 1.6, The Open University 2012, 1.6 models of health care delivery:the biomedical model, Learning space, open learn, [online] retrieved from http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=398060§ion=1.6 accessed on 7.12.2012
The OU 2012 1.7, The Open University 2012, 1.7 models of health care delivery:the biopsychosocial model, Learning space, open learn [online] retrieved from http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=398060§ion=1.7 accessed on 7.12.2012
Crinson 2007, Section 6. The social experience of living with chronic illness and disability, Public Health Action Support Team, Buckinghamshire [ online] retrieved from http://www.healthknowledge.org.uk/public-health-textbook/medical-sociology-policy-economies/4a-concepts-health-illness/section6 accessed on 7.12.2012
Robert Halliday & Basiro Davey, 2010, Water and Health in an Overcrowded World, The Open University, Oxford
Ross Clark, 2012, Class Notes, The Manchester College, Manchester
BBC4 2010, Mental: A History of the Madhouse
Mental Health Foundation 2012, Mental Health Statistics, [online] retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/ accessed on 8.12.2012
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