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Biomedical model

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The biomedical model of medicine care is the medical model used in most Western healthcare settings, and is built from the perception that a state of health is defined purely in the absence of illness.[1]: 24, 26  The biomedical model contrasts with sociological theories of care.[1]: 1 [2]

Forms of the biomedical model have existed since before 400 BC, with Hippocrates advocating for physical etiologies of illness. Despite this, the model did not form the dominant view of health until the nineteenth century during the Scientific Revolution.[1]: 25 

Criticism of the model generally surrounds its perception that health is independent of the social environment in which it occurs, and can be defined one way across all populations.[3] The model is also criticised for its view of the health system as socially and politically neutral, and not as a source of social and political power or as embedded into the structure of society.[4]


In their book Society, Culture and Health: an Introduction to Sociology for Nurses, health sociologists Dr. Karen Willis and Dr. Shandell Elmer outline eight 'features' of the biomedical model's approach to illness and health:[1]: 27–29 

  • doctrine of specific aetiology: that all illness and disease is attributable to a specific, physiological dysfunction
  • body as a machine: that the body is formed of machinery to be fixed by medical doctors
  • mind-body distinction: that the mind and body are separate entities that do not interrelate
  • reductionism
  • narrow definition of health: that a state of health is always the absence of a definable illness
  • individualistic: that sources of ill health are always in the individual, and not the environment which health occurs
  • treatment versus prevention: that the focus of health is on diagnosis and treatment of illness, not prevention
  • treatment imperative: that medicine can 'fix the broken machinery' of ill-health
  • neutral scientific process: that health care systems and agents of health are socially and culturally detached

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Willis, Karen; Elmer, Shandell (2007). Society, Culture and Health: an Introduction to Sociology for Nurses. Sydney, Australia: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195559071.
  2. ^ Wade, Derick; Halligan, Peter (11 December 2004). "Do biomedical models of illness make for good healthcare systems?". The BMJ. 329 (7479): 1398–1401. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7479.1398. PMC 535463. PMID 15591570.
  3. ^ Annandale, The Sociology of Health and Medicine: A Critical Introduction, Polity Press, 1998
  4. ^ Hunter, Jennifer; Corcoran, Katherine; Phelps, Kerryn; Leeder, Stephen (30 November 2012). "The Integrative Medicine Team—Is Biomedical Dominance Inevitable?". The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 18 (12): 1127–1132. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0393. PMID 23198827 – via Liebertpub.