Understanding the Biomedical Model

Traditionally, western medicine has been centred around the biomedical model and its underpinning philosophies to best determine a person’s health status. The biomedical model

has allowed medicine to advance in leaps and bounds over recent decades, improving our understanding of the human body while also maintaining a superior standard of care through the evidence-based practice approach. Through this approach, we were able to isolate body systems and understand disease processes and how they impacted upon the individual systems, as well as the body as a whole.

Recently, the biomedical approach has come under fire for its broad generalisations and inability to account for individual differences and preferences. The biomedical model views health as binary terms of simply healthy, and not healthy. While this is generally a good way of looking at healthcare in general, the biomedical model is criticised for its broad and almost universally applicable definition of unhealthy, and extremely narrow, nearly unobtainable small definition of healthy. According to the biomedical approach, a healthy person is simply defined as and individual free from any disease, while unhealthy is defined as any person with any symptoms of disease. From these two definitions, it is clear to see why some individuals who are otherwise perfectly healthy, can be deemed unhealthy due to a minor issue, or otherwise due to a mental health problem such as anxiety.

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The biomedical model also takes a very traditional view of disease, viewing it as breakdown of a body system or other bodily function, or as caused by specific pathogenic agents introduced to the body. While a highly successful model of healthcare, the biomedical model examines a patient from a body systems and reductionist point of view, breaking the body up into its constituent parts and thinking of it more like a machine than an all-encompassing and holistic system incorporating all aspects of the individual.

Through the biomedical model, traditional western healthcare examines the body for “broken parts” and sets about attempting to restore those individual parts back to proper function. Thus, the biomedical model focusses more on testing and diagnosis of disease and the treatment of the pathogens to cure the disease, rather than looking for extenuating factors. For example, rather than administering pain killers or performing invasive surgery for hip and knee pain, the problem may be resolved by looking at the patient as a whole and determining if perhaps their walk is uneven and may simply require orthotics. Additionally, liver disease may be resultant from heavy alcohol use, which turn is the result of depression or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. A person is only considered healthy when all symptoms and signs have been eliminated, thus restoring the broken body system back to proper function, and deeming the person healthy again.

This approach to repairing individual body systems can lead to additional problems for the patient resulting from the treatment of one condition. This is most evident in the elderly. Elderly residents in aged care facilities are on average of 9 or more drugs per day, many of which are only to treat the side effects of another drug. This is the mentality of the biomedical model, to fix a broken system with one solution, then to pix the problems that arise from that solution with a different solution, then fix the problems caused by that solution, and so on.

The biomedical model is often criticised for its reductionist point of view, and failure to factor in the mental and spiritual aspects of a persons being. This separation of mind an body has made it into the mainstream culture, evident in the way the general population views mental health issues, and often seeks the assistance of a councillor or psychologist, as opposed to visiting the doctor as they often would in the case of any other health concerns. The biomedical model also fails to factor in lifestyle factors, exercise regimens and personal habits into the disease processes, an approach which has seen a change in recent years.

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