The biomedical model defines health as being free of disease and infirmity, and does not take into account social or cultural issues. It is the dominant model used throughout the majority of western societies, and in these societies is generally seen as the only “legitimate” way to treat illness.
One of the main factors of the biomedical model of health is that it sees the human body as a “machine” and that each part of the body can be “fixed individually”. This idea began during the Cartesian revolution, named after the French philosopher René Descartes.
This revolution encouraged the idea that the body and mind are independent, or at least not closely interrelated. Another major breakthrough of the biomedical model of health was Louis Pasteur’s 1850’s development of “germ theory”. This was the discovery that tiny micro-organisms or “germs” were the cause of disease as opposed to the product of a disease.
The medical treatment and technology used by this model of health is based solely on research and scientific study. It can sometimes take years for a new medicine of or piece of medical equipment to even pass approval to make it to a trial run. They have very strict requirements to meet, and then once the governing body approves it to go to trial it has to be thoroughly tested.
The first tests are mainly performed on animals and they will have to prove (sometimes hundreds of times) that they can improve the condition of certain diseases in these animals before they will be allowed to begin human trials, which starts the whole process again. However, all of this rigorous testing really is beneficial, as it allows the medical professionals to guarantee an extremely high success rate in treatments, or sometimes it will outline failures in the technology.
Since the Medical Registration Act was imposed in 1858, medicine has gradually, over time become more professionalised. Prior to this act being introduced there were three main groups of “orthodox medicine”. The physicians and surgeons held a high status and generally only treated patients of the middle class, and the apothecaries having a lower status and treating lower status patients.
After years of campaigning when the act was finally passed, although it did not directly outlaw “unqualified” practices such as homeopathy it did do indirectly by authorising the recently established General Medical Council (GMC) to maintain a register of “suitably qualified” practitioners from which homeopaths were excluded.
The Act further limited medicine’s Therapeutic groups by stopping them from providing their services at a lower cost than the “professionals” on the GMC’s register.
Although the present position of doctor’s power is of relatively high status, the professionalism may currently be under threat from several different sources. First off is the fact that diseases are now more likely to be degenerative as opposed to infectious, which would lead to an increase in the demand for preventative medicine which would cause a transfer of power from doctors to patients and health workers. (1) The 1991 reforms to the National Health Service (NHS) have impacted the medical influence by bringing more managers and administrators to the health service.
The main disadvantage of the biomedical model of health is the fact that it only looks at the biological process of disease and does not take into account the social or emotional issues that can cause illness. For example, if a patient who was a smoker, but also lived close to an oil refinery that produced masses of air pollution, came to a doctor complaining of chest pains, the doctor will advise the patient to quit smoking and will blame the pains on this.
More often than not the doctor will not even enquire about whether there were any other sources that could cause the pain. So the patient will quit smoking but the chest pains may still progress due to the pollution. This blame culture that the doctors impose upon patients can make them feel as though it is their entire fault.
Another flaw of the model is that the medicines and treatments used are mostly curative as opposed to preventative. Straight away this is a disadvantage as it means the patient will have to first suffer through an illness before a doctor will prescribe a medicine or treatment to resolve the issue. Whereas, if they invested more time in preventative methods, they could stop these diseases and illnesses from taking hold in the first place.
In conclusion, while the biomedical model of health does benefit society greatly, with its ability to cure many major and life threatening illnesses, it could be further improved by looking at the social and emotional causes of disease and infirmity. This, from what I have noticed is slowly being introduced into modern medicine, with doctors sometime recommending a patient see a therapist to deal with emotional issues to aid recovery.