Medical sociology

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Medical sociology is the sociological analysis of medical organizations and institutions; the production of knowledge and selection of methods, the actions and interactions of healthcare professionals, and the social or cultural (rather than clinical or bodily) effects of medical practice. The field commonly interacts with the sociology of knowledge, science and technology studies, and social epistemology. Medical sociologists are also interested in the qualitative experiences of patients, often working at the boundaries of public health, social work, demography and gerontology to explore phenomena at the intersection of the social and clinical sciences. Health disparities commonly relate to typical categories such as class and race. Objective sociological research findings quickly become a normative and political issue.

In sociology, social action, also known as Weberian social action, refers to an act which takes into the account of actions and reactions of individuals. According to Max Weber, "an Action is 'social' if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course".

Sociology of knowledge Study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects that prevailing ideas have on societies. It is not a specialized area of sociology but instead deals with broad fundamental questions about the extent and limits of social influences on individuals' lives and with the social-cultural basis of our knowledge about the world. Complementary to the sociology of knowledge is the sociology of ignorance, including the study of nescience, ignorance, knowledge gaps, or non-knowledge as inherent features of knowledge-making.

Science and technology studies academic field

Science and technology studies, or science, technology and society studies is the study of how society, politics, and culture affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture.


Early work in medical sociology was conducted by Lawrence J Henderson whose theoretical interests in the work of Vilfredo Pareto inspired Talcott Parsons interests in sociological systems theory. Parsons is one of the founding fathers of medical sociology, and applied social role theory to interactional relations between sick people and others. Key contributors to medical sociology since the 1950s include Howard S. Becker, Mike Bury, Peter Conrad, Jack Douglas, David Silverman, Phil Strong, Bernice Pescosolido, Carl May, Anne Rogers, Anselm Strauss, Renee Fox, and Joseph W. Schneider.

Lawrence Joseph Henderson was a physiologist, chemist, biologist, philosopher, and sociologist. He became one of the leading biochemists of the early 20th century. His work contributed to the Henderson–Hasselbalch equation, used to calculate pH as a measure of acidity.

Vilfredo Pareto Italian economist and sociologist

Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher. He made several important contributions to economics, particularly in the study of income distribution and in the analysis of individuals' choices. He was also responsible for popularising the use of the term "elite" in social analysis.

Talcott Parsons American sociologist

Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) was an American sociologist of the classical tradition, best known for his social action theory and structural functionalism. Parsons is considered one of the most influential figures in sociology in the 20th century. After earning a PhD in economics, he served on the faculty at Harvard University from 1927 to 1929. In 1930, he was among the first professors in its new sociology department.

The field of medical sociology is usually taught as part of a wider sociology, clinical psychology or health studies degree course, or on dedicated Master's degree courses where it is sometimes combined with the study of medical ethics and bioethics. In Britain, sociology was introduced into the medical curriculum following the Goodenough report in 1944: "In medicine, 'social explanations' of the aetiology of disease meant for some doctors a redirection of medical thought from the purely clinical and psychological criteria of illness. The introduction of 'social' factors into medical explanation was most strongly evidenced in branches of medicine closely related to the community — Social Medicine and, later, General Practice" ( Reid 1976 ).

Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

Medical ethics system of moral principles of the practice of medicine

Medical ethics is a system of moral principles that apply values to the practice of clinical medicine and in scientific research. Medical ethics is based on a set of values that professionals can refer to in the case of any confusion or conflict. These values include the respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice. Such tenets may allow doctors, care providers, and families to create a treatment plan and work towards the same common goal. It is important to note that these four values are not ranked in order of importance or relevance and that they all encompass values pertaining to medical ethics. However, a conflict may arise leading to the need for hierarchy in an ethical system, such that some moral elements overrule others with the purpose of applying the best moral judgement to a difficult medical situation.

Bioethics is the study of the ethical issues emerging from advances in biology and medicine. It is also moral discernment as it relates to medical policy and practice. Bioethics are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine and medical ethics, politics, law, theology and philosophy. It includes the study of values relating to primary care and other branches of medicine. Ethics also relates to many other sciences outside the realm of biological sciences.

See also

Medical anthropology studies "human health and disease, health care systems, and biocultural adaptation". It views humans from multidimensional and ecological perspectives. It is one of the most highly developed areas of anthropology and applied anthropology, and is a subfield of social and cultural anthropology that examines the ways in which culture and society are organized around or influenced by issues of health, health care and related issues.

Medicalization or medicalisation is the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions, and thus become the subject of medical study, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment. Medicalization can be driven by new evidence or hypotheses about conditions; by changing social attitudes or economic considerations; or by the development of new medications or treatments.

Epidemiological transition

In demography and medical geography, epidemiological transition is a phase of development witnessed by a sudden and stark increase in population growth rates brought by improved food security and innovations in public health and medicine, followed by a re-leveling of population growth due to subsequent declines in fertility rates. This accounts for the replacement of infectious diseases by chronic diseases over time due to increased life span as a result of improved health care and disease prevention. This theory was originally posited by Abdel Omran in 1971.

Related Research Articles

Disease abnormal condition negatively affecting organisms

A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of part or all of an organism, and that is not due to any external injury. Diseases are often construed as medical conditions that are associated with specific symptoms and signs. A disease may be caused by external factors such as pathogens or by internal dysfunctions. For example, internal dysfunctions of the immune system can produce a variety of different diseases, including various forms of immunodeficiency, hypersensitivity, allergies and autoimmune disorders.

Medicine The science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of physical and mental illnesses

Medicine is the science and practice of establishing the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness. Contemporary medicine applies biomedical sciences, biomedical research, genetics, and medical technology to diagnose, treat, and prevent injury and disease, typically through pharmaceuticals or surgery, but also through therapies as diverse as psychotherapy, external splints and traction, medical devices, biologics, and ionizing radiation, amongst others.

Social work academic discipline and profession

Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being. Social functioning is the way in which people perform their social roles, and the structural institutions that are provided to sustain them. Social work applies social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social and personal problems; and to bring about social change. Social work practice is often divided into micro-work, which involves working directly with individuals or small groups; and macro-work, which involves working with communities, and - within social policy - fostering change on a larger scale.

Malingering is the fabrication, intentional production, or significant exaggeration of physical or psychological symptoms or the intentional misattribution of genuine symptoms to an unrelated event or series of events designed to achieve a specific objective such as escaping duty or work; mitigating punishment; obtaining drugs; or receiving unwarranted recompense, such as disability compensation or personal damages award.

Health psychology is the study of psychological and behavioral processes in health, illness, and healthcare. It is concerned with understanding how psychological, behavioral, and cultural factors contribute to physical health and illness. Psychological factors can affect health directly. For example, chronically occurring environmental stressors affecting the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, cumulatively, can harm health. Behavioral factors can also affect a person's health. For example, certain behaviors can, over time, harm or enhance health. Health psychologists take a biopsychosocial approach. In other words, health psychologists understand health to be the product not only of biological processes but also of psychological, behavioral, and social processes.

The SOAP note is a method of documentation employed by healthcare providers to write out notes in a patient's chart, along with other common formats, such as the admission note. Documenting patient encounters in the medical record is an integral part of practice workflow starting with appointment scheduling, patient check-in and exam, documentation of notes, check-out, rescheduling, and medical billing. Additionally, it serves as a general cognitive framework for physicians to follow as they assess their patients.

Health equity synonymous with health disparity refers to the study and causes of differences in the quality of health and healthcare across different populations. Health equity is different from health equality, as it refers only to the absence of disparities in controllable or remediable aspects of health. It is not possible to work towards complete equality in health, as there are some factors of health that are beyond human influence. Inequity implies some kinds of social injustice. Thus, if one population dies younger than another because of genetic differences, a non-remediable/controllable factor, we tend to say that there is a health inequality. On the other hand, if a population has a lower life expectancy due to lack of access to medications, the situation would be classified as a health inequity. These inequities may include differences in the "presence of disease, health outcomes, or access to health care" between populations with a different race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.

The sociology of health and illness, alternatively the sociology of health and wellness, examines the interaction between society and health. The objective of this topic is to see how social life affects morbidity and mortality rate, and vice versa. This aspect of sociology differs from medical sociology in that this branch of sociology discusses health and illness in relation to social institutions such as family, employment, and school. The sociology of medicine limits its concern to the patient-practitioner relationship and the role of health professionals in society. The sociology of health and illness covers sociological pathology, reasons for seeking particular types of medical aid, and patient compliance or noncompliance with medical regimes.

Social medicine

The field of social medicine seeks to implement social care through

  1. understanding how social and economic conditions impact health, disease and the practice of medicine and
  2. fostering conditions in which this understanding can lead to a healthier society.
Forensic social work

Forensic social work is the application of social work to questions and issues relating to law and legal systems. This specialty of the social work profession goes far beyond clinics and psychiatric hospitals for criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of competency and responsibility. A broader definition includes social work practice which in any way is related to legal issues and litigation, both criminal and civil. Child custody issues, involving separation, divorce, neglect, termination of parental rights, the implications of child and spousal abuse, juvenile and adult justice services, corrections, and mandated treatment all fall under this definition. Forensic social worker may also be involved in policy or legislative development intended to improve social justice.

Race and health refers to how being identified with a specific race influences health. Race is a complex concept that changes across time and space and that depends on both self-identification and social recognition. In the study of race and health, scientists organize people in racial categories depending on different factors such as: phenotype, ancestry, social identity, genetic makeup and lived experience. “Race” and ethnicity often remain undifferentiated in health research.

Medical statistics deals with applications of statistics to medicine and the health sciences, including epidemiology, public health, forensic medicine, and clinical research. Medical statistics has been a recognized branch of statistics in the United Kingdom for more than 40 years but the term has not come into general use in North America, where the wider term 'biostatistics' is more commonly used. However, "biostatistics" more commonly connotes all applications of statistics to biology. Medical statistics is a subdiscipline of statistics. "It is the science of summarizing, collecting, presenting and interpreting data in medical practice, and using them to estimate the magnitude of associations and test hypotheses. It has a central role in medical investigations. It not only provides a way of organizing information on a wider and more formal basis than relying on the exchange of anecdotes and personal experience, but also takes into account the intrinsic variation inherent in most biological processes."

Carl May FAcSS is a British sociologist. He researches in the fields of medical sociology and science and technology studies (STS). Formerly based at Southampton University and Newcastle University, he is now Professor of Medical Sociology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Carl May was elected an Academician of the Academy of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences in 2006. He was appointed an NIHR Senior Investigator in 2010. His work falls into two distinct themes.

The Normalization process model is a sociological model, developed by Carl R. May, that describes the adoption of new technologies in health care. The model provides framework for process evaluation using three components – actors, objects, and contexts – that are compared across four constructs: Interactional workability, relational integration, skill-set workability, and contextual integration. This model helped build the Normalization process theory.

Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to diagnosing, preventing, and treating mental disorders. These include various maladaptations related to mood, behavior, cognition, and perceptions. See glossary of psychiatry.

Cultural competence in healthcare

Cultural competence in healthcare refers to the ability for healthcare professionals to demonstrate cultural competence toward patients with diverse values, beliefs, and feelings. This process includes consideration of the individual social, cultural, and feelings needs of patients for effective cross-cultural communication with their health care providers. The goal of cultural competence in health care is to reduce health disparities and to provide optimal care to patients regardless of their race, gender, ethnic background, native languages spoken, and religious or cultural beliefs. Cultural competency training is important in health care fields where human interaction is common, including medicine, nursing, allied health, mental health, social work, pharmacy, oral health, and public health fields.

Controversies about psychiatry

As long as psychiatry has existed it has been subject to controversy. Psychiatric treatments are sometimes seen to be ultimately more damaging than helpful to patients. Psychiatry is often thought to be a benign medical practice, but at times is seen by some as a coercive instrument of oppression. Psychiatry is seen to involve an unequal power relationship between doctor and patient, and critics of psychiatry claim a subjective diagnostic process, leaving much room for opinions and interpretations. In 2013, psychiatrist Allen Frances said that "psychiatric diagnosis still relies exclusively on fallible subjective judgments rather than objective biological tests". Every society permits compulsory treatment of mental patients.

Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D. is dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Before joining Tulane he was chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health. LaVeist focuses mainly on the development of policy and interventions to address race disparities in health-related outcomes.


Reid, Margaret (1976), "The Development of Medical Sociology in Britain", Discussion Papers in Social Research No 13, University of Glasgow

Further reading

Bird, Chloe E.; Conrad, Peter; Fremont, Allen M. (2000). Handbook of Medical Sociology (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN   978-0-13-014456-0. OCLC   42862076.

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Bloom, Samuel William (2002). The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-507232-7. OCLC   47056386.

Brown, Phil (2008). Perspectives in Medical Sociology (4th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press. ISBN   978-1-57766-518-2. OCLC   173976504.

Cockerham, William C. (2001). The Blackwell Companion to Medical Sociology. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell. ISBN   978-0-631-21703-9. OCLC   44039611.

Cockerham, William C.; Ritchey, Ferris Joseph (1997). Dictionary of Medical Sociology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN   978-0-313-29269-9. OCLC   35637576.

Conrad, Peter (2007). The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN   978-0-8018-8584-6. OCLC   72774268.

Helman, Cecil (2007). Culture, Health, and Illness (5th ed.). London, England: Hodder Arnold. ISBN   978-0-340-91450-2. OCLC   74966843.Law, Jacky (2006). Big Pharma: Exposing the Global Healthcare Agenda. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf. ISBN   978-0-7867-1783-5. OCLC   64590433.Levy, Judith A.; Pescosolido, Bernice A. (2002). Social Networks and Health (1st ed.). Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Boston, MA: JAI. ISBN   978-0-7623-0881-1. OCLC   50494394.

Mechanic, David (1994). Inescapable Decisions: The Imperatives of Health Reform. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN   978-1-56000-121-8. OCLC   28029448.

Rogers, Anne; Pilgrim, David (2005). A Sociology of Mental Health and Illness (3rd ed.). Maidenhead, England: Open University Press. ISBN   978-0-335-21584-3. OCLC   60320098.

Scambler, Graham; Higgs, Paul (1998). Modernity, Medicine, and Health: Medical Sociology Towards 2000. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-14938-9. OCLC   37573644.

Turner, Bryan M. (2004). The New Medical Sociology: Social Forms of Health and Illness. New York, NY: W.W. Norton. ISBN   978-0-393-97505-5. OCLC   54692993.