The biomedical model of illness and healing focuses on purely biological factors, and excludes psychological, environmental, and social influences. This is considered to be the dominant, modern way for health care professionals to diagnose and treat a condition in most Western countries. Most health care professionals do not first ask for a psychological or social history of a patient; instead, they tend to analyze and look for biophysical or genetic malfunctions. The focus is on objective laboratory tests rather than the subjective feelings or history of the patient.
According to this model, good health is the freedom from pain, disease, or defect. It focuses on physical processes that affect health, such as the biochemistry, physiology, and pathology of a condition. It does not account for social or psychological factors that could have a role in the illness. In this model, each illness has one underlying cause, and once that cause is removed, the patient will be healthy again.
The biomedical model is often contrasted with the biopsychosocial model. In 1977, psychiatrist George L. Engel questioned the dominance of the biomedical model, proposing the biopsychosocial model to holistically assess a patient's biological, social, psychological, and behavioral background to determine his or her illness and path of treatment. Although the biomedical model has remained the dominant theory in most places, many fields of medicine including nursing, sociology, and psychology make use of the biopsychosocial model at times. In recent years, some medical professionals have also begun to adopt a biopsychosocial-spiritual model, insisting that spiritual factors must be considered as well.
Proponents of the biopsychosocial model argue that the biomedical model alone does not take into account all of the factors that have an impact on a patient's health. Biological issues, as well as psychological factors such as a patient's mood, intelligence, memory, and perceptions are all considered when making a diagnosis. The biomedical approach may not, for example, take into account the role sociological factors like family, social class, or a patient's environment may have on causing a health condition, and thus offer little insight into how illness may be prevented. A patient who complains of symptoms that have no obvious objective cause might also be dismissed as not being ill, despite the very real affect those symptoms may have on the patient's daily life.
Many scholars in disability studies describe a medical model of disability that is part of the general biomedical approach. In this model, disability is an entirely physical occurrence, and being disabled is a negative that can only be made better if the disability is cured and the person is made "normal." Many disability rights advocates reject this, and promote a social model in which disability is a difference — neither a good nor bad trait. Proponents of the social model see disability as a cultural construct. They point out that a how a person experiences his or her disability can vary based on environmental and societal changes, and that someone who is considered disabled can often be healthy and prosperous without the intervention of a professional or the disability being cured.
Counseling is another field that often uses a more holistic approach to healing. Proponents of this framework note that, in the biomedical model, a patient looks to an expert for a specific diagnosis and treatment. Many counselors often try not to label patients with a specific condition, and instead help them recognize their strengths and build on their positive traits. The relationship is far more collaborative than in the biomedical model where a health care professional instructs a patient to follow medical orders so he or she can be cured.
Disease vs. Disorder vs. Syndrome: What Is the Difference?
When you go to the hospital, you may hear the doctors describing your symptoms and diagnosis using the terms disease, disorder, and syndrome. Although these terms seem interchangeable, they have different meanings in medical practice.
The disease is the highest level of understanding of an illness. It includes identifying the specific causative agent that elucidates symptoms to a level of certainty. Unlike a disorder, a healthcare provider can see, touch and measure.
For arrhythmia, the disease is cardiovascular disease (CVD) since doctors can clearly define the reasons behind it.
A disorder is similar to a syndrome as it refers to symptoms that appear together and co-vary in time. But, these symptoms may also relate. Usually, there is not enough clinical evidence for an entire diagnosis as doctors are limited in ascertaining the altered state of health.
Disorders affect the regular functioning of the body or part of the body. Each group depends on how they affect the human body. They can be mental, physical, genetic, or structural. An example of a disorder affecting the heart is arrhythmia. It is a condition where the heart beats in irregular patterns.
The observed deviations can only be symptoms when your body is not functioning optimally. When symptoms occur together, they describe a syndrome. Here, there is no direct identification of what might be causing the symptoms.
For example, Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the last stage of HIV infections where the body’s immune system is completely damaged. Here, the patient suffers from opportunistic infections whose symptoms come up due to impaired immunity.
How Sociological Factors Influence Your Health
Sociological factors include all personal circumstances that impact your health and well-being. In addition, they have cultural, economic, and political factors that influence your access to health services. The sociological factors include:
- Income and status: Your income level and social class influence your health. People with a higher income and social status have better health than those with a lower income level. Similarly, the divergence between the income classes and societal position is proportional to the deviation in access to healthcare.
- Education level: Your level of education will have a significant impact on your health. People with a lower education level have poor general health. In addition, lower education levels result in poor language and illiteracy, flawed decision-making, lower self-esteem, and chronic health conditions.
- Housing conditions: Where you live plays a significant part in your health status. You are at a higher risk of developing health problems in poor living conditions. It extends to your neighborhood and relates to civil participation, discrimination, and access to government resources.
- Food security: The type and amount of food you access will contribute to your overall health. Food insecurity is associated with health conditions, particularly in children.
How Spirituality Influences Medical Diagnosis
The biopsychosocial–spiritual model explores the interrelation between your spirituality and health. This approach recognizes that your body and mind have connections to the environment, which influence your health. It is beneficial when doctors deal with end-of-life circumstances such as termination of pregnancy and suspension of treatment for terminal illnesses.
Researchers identify spirituality and religion as closely related and go a long way in influencing the life essence of patients. These positive implications are strength and hopefulness against disease suffering, making it more bearable for patients. Similarly, negative expressions of spirituality such as sorrow and guilt tend to slow down medical recovery and result in conditions such as stress.
How Does Technology Influence the Biomedical Model?
The biomedical model and technology are mutually enforcing in maintaining the same objectivity in disease diagnosis. However, technology can run on the basic principles of the biomedical model more effectively as it is solely based on data collected from a patient. As a result, technology is revolutionizing the medical industry in diagnosis, surgery, research, and development.
For example, computer technology allows doctors to conceptualize and categorize mental disorders, which doctors can use to make decisions on diagnosis and treatment. The use of technology in neuroscience and human genomics is even challenging the applicability of the biopsychosocial approach in medical practice.
However, caution is warranted in embracing technology in the medical industry. There is limited education, training, and policy regarding the ethics of information derived from technology and the service to patients. Also, the integration is still in its early stages; therefore, the medical field must wait before making conclusions on the biomedical–technology integration.