Saturday, March 25, 2006

A formula for medicine?

In college, I took an interdisciplinary course called “culture, society and disease.” This course dealt with factors that affect society’s perception and determination of what constitutes health. It addressed the issue that medicine is not just about caring for the sick, that societal factors determine who is sick, how the sick is treated, who gets any available treatment, and even what treatments are effective or available.

Prior to this class, I described medicine or healthcare with one formula: Illness plus treatment equals to medicine, and treatment involved using a physical, chemical or biological agent. The years spent in a developing country reinforced the power of this formula. I was aware of how limited resources could affect medicine but that was the only limiting factor I knew about. The concepts I learned or was made aware of in this course made me reevaluate my view of medicine.

I thought about the placebo effect, how it is beneficial purely by the power of reassurance and by relief felt by a person for having taken an action towards getting better. It was interesting that sometimes just feeling better could equal getting better. I also thought about the issue of noncompliance— why people fail to take their medications despite the absence of significant side effects. I remembered my reluctance to take any medicine when I was a child; I did not want to be aware of my ill health, which taking the medicine seemed to do. There was more to medicine than just "treatment" as I had understood it.

My formula for medicine proved to be overly simplistic. Even the very idea of having a formula for what medicine is and does is simplistic; medicine adapts and changes. Learning how to treat illnesses and ways to improve health also means learning about people, how they think, how they function, and how their surrounding influences them.

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