Relating social theories to medicine | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy

Voiceover: When you step back and look
at the sociology content here, you might be wondering how in the world any of
this applies to medicine. You might say, it has nothing to do with
the physical health of a person, so why do you need to know
all of this? Why do these social theories and social
structures matter to someone in the field of
medicine? Let’s go through the different theories
and figure this out. First off, we have functionalism. Remember, functionalism is the theory that
different institutions in a society adjust to minor changes to keep the
society stable and functioning. If we look at the function of medicine in society from a functionalist point of
view. We’re asking what is the purpose of
medicine. Well when people become ill medicine
ensures that they return to a functional state, so they can
contribute to society. Being sick is detrimental to the well
being of the society as a whole and when you’re sick people can
usually tell. They tell you to go home and get better. The assumption is that you’re not supposed to participate in society when you’re
sick. This upsets the stability of the society
on a small scale at least. The doctor is there to get you better
again, so you can get back to participating in
society. On a bigger scale, the institution of
medicine helps us stabilize the social system in emergency situations like hurricanes or earthquakes, where
hospitals and medical professionals take over large
spaces like school gyms to provide the medical assistance needed by
the many people who are injured. In day-to-day life medicine helps to
improve the quality of life for the aging population, allowing them to
contribute to society for longer. Okay, that seems to make sense. Medicine keeps people healthy and
participating in society. What about conflict theory? How do conflicting groups in a society
affect the health of an individual? As we know, conflict theory is all about
the inequality between different groups. In the case of medicine, this could have quite a significant impact on who has
access to medical care, meaning both access to
hospitals and the ability to be covered by
insurance. Wealthier citizens can pay for the best
medical care, but people that are scraping by cannot afford
hospital bills without insurance. Sometimes people can afford health
insurance when it isn’t provided by their employer or they
can’t afford the deductibles, so they skip the
hospital visit and try to heal on their own. Meaning they are sick for longer or
perhaps they never get better. The unequal access to valuable resources
in society, like education, housing or well-paying jobs, leads to health
disparities and limited access to medical care. Even the power struggle between different
interest groups can affect the health of an
individual. Take a look at air pollution regulations. Factories want more lax regulations to
reduce costs, while the people living near those factories want stricter
regulations for their own health and well being. Asthma rates rise in areas with higher
levels of particulate matter in the air. Stricter air pollution regulations keep
the residents healthier, in terms of asthma rates at least, but put a dent in the
income of factories. All right, two down. Let’s take a look at the theory of social
constructionism now. In case you forgot, social constructionism
is the idea that society gives value to
everything. A diamond was just a rock until society
agreed that it should have value. In regards to medicine, it means that as a
society, we have attached different meanings to different behaviors,
and we have different preconceptions of
different people. In short it means stereotypes, we have
assumptions about people based on their appearance or actions and we treat people differently because of those
assumptions. We have preconceptions about different
races, ages, genders, even subcultures like medal
heads. In the past, if we saw someone talking to
themselves on the street we would assume they were mentally unstable
so we would give them a wide berth. Today, we know people might be talking on
a Bluetooth device and so we assume they
aren’t crazy. Assumptions can be very dangerous to a
medical professional. They can affect how you treat your patient
or your diagnosis. But interaction between the patient and
the doctor is influenced by stereotype assumptions on
both sides. Perhaps the patient feels some symptom is
not important enough to mention to the doctor or perhaps the doctor makes a false assumption based on how the patient
appears. Assumptions also affect how the health
system views the patient. There are people who argue that someone
who can’t afford health care doesn’t deserve it because
they don’t work hard enough. You can’t declare a characteristic of a
person based on their circumstance. There are people who don’t work who can
still afford health care, while some people work hard at minimum
wage who can’t spare the money. You also have to be aware of
medicalization, where patients or doctors will construct an illness out
out ordinary behavior. A child who can’t sit still in class
doesn’t necessarily have ADD. They might just need to get out on the
playground and run. Now that we know to be aware of social
based assumptions, let’s check out how symbolic
interactionism applies to medicine. Remember the symbolic interactionism
states that individuals give the world meaning by interacting with
it. One person could consider a bridge a way
to cross over a body of water, while another person considers
it a good shelter from the rain. There are many ways we can see how this
applies to medicine. Let’s take a look at two. For one, we have the doctor-patient
relationship. The meaning given to simple objects, like
a lab coat or a stethoscope, can affect the
interaction. It is important for the doctor to realize
the meaning the patient’s given to the tools
of medicine. The patient may see the lab coat as a sign
of authority, giving the doctor the power to
diagnose and treat them. Is the stethoscope a way for the doctor to
connect with the patient, or is it just a tool that
decorates a doctor’s neck? Second, we have the changes in society. Recently, there has been a medicalization
of society, where everything from beauty to just being fidgety now has
a medical fix. Standards of beauty have encouraged many people to undergo unnecessary plastic
surgery. People can choose to have C-sections when
giving birth. Which can effect both the mother and child
later in life. Normal behaviors are being shown as
illnesses. One of the most prevalent examples of illness manufacturing is in the case of
depression. While depression is a serious condition it’s importance and severity have been
marginalized. It seems like every other person today is
depressed. When you’re sad, society views that as
there being something wrong with you, but in reality sadness is a
natural biological function. We’re suppose to be sad sometimes. All right, let’s take a look at something
a bit more specific. Feminist theory is an offshoot of conflict
theory that focuses on the inequalities between men
and women in society. These inequalities are pretty apparent
when looking at the field of medicine. Though the admittance of women into med
school is on the rise, it is still am male-dominated
field. The heads of hospitals and doctors in
general still tend to be men. There’s a disparity in the jobs and salary
between male and female doctors. Men more often occupy higher paid
positions. Women are more often found in family
medicine rather than specialized fields. This disparity in health care positions
translates into a disparity in power. If you take a look at medicine from the
perspective of rational choice and exchange theories, you can
observe big worldview issues of power. Rational choice and exchange theory assume
that people behave rationally according to
their best interests. And that you can break down any social institution into the self-interest of
interactions between individuals. So, let’s see how this applies. When you look at the medical system as a
whole, you can ask, what is the purpose of the
medical system? Does it really exist to keep people
healthy or is there some other reason? Perhaps it’s a capitalist competition to
earn the most money. Perhaps the structure of our medical
system benefits private companies more than it does the sick people that it’s
supposed to be helping. People run every aspect of the medical
system and those people will make decisions that benefit
themselves more than a random sick stranger. And perhaps, that effects why people go to
the doctor or not when they’re sick. Will going to the doctor benefit them the
most in the long run? Or will it cost them an arm and a leg? Some people avoid doctor visits for minor things, because they can not afford the
expense. But that could allow something that could
be easily treated to become a much larger
problem. The self interested behavior people in
charge of different aspects of the medical system will trickle down to eventually
effect the well being of a patient. Well look at that bridging the gap between
sociology and medicine seemed a near impossible task when we started but
now we have quite a few examples. To be honest, there are probably so many more ways that sociology’s involved
in medicine. Let’s take a look outside the specific
theories too. Where you live can affect you health. There are urban areas called food deserts,
where there are no grocery stores within a
reasonable distance. The only places to eat are fast food
restaurants or, perhaps, grabbing a snack at a gas
station. It is nearly impossible to get the
nutrition a body needs from only these sources, and malnutrition can
lead to a host of other problems. Some neighborhoods have no gyms or playgrounds, nowhere for residents to
exercise. You can use these examples to come up with
your own examples of other places where
sociology applies to medicine.

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