Author: Zach Lamb

This lesson will define the role of medicine, health, and social epidemiology.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, welcome to Sociological Studies. Thanks for joining me. I hope you're having a good day.

We're going to discuss health and medicine in this lesson, and we'll look at how social conflict theory helps us to make sense of health. For starters, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. It's an overview of all states of health. So you can be healthy physically, but you might be depressed so then you're not healthy by this definition. So you need the complete picture to be considered healthy.

Holistic medicine, in fact, is a branch that emphasizes the preventative management of both physical and mental health. It emphasizes preventative care and that all aspects of health need to be considered. And that's holistic medicine.

But I'm not just introducing health and holistic medicine for the sake of it. Let's look at it sociologically and ask some sociological questions. How do sociologists study health?

Let's turn to that now. Sociologists studying health and medicine will pay particular attention to social epidemiology. Epidemiology, it's kind of a tough word to say. It's the study of how various diseases on the one hand, and good health on the other, are distributed throughout a population.

So in the United States, we have inequalities in the enjoyment of health and the negative experience of disease. And a social epidemiologist will look at these things. So we have poor people, and we have rich people. We have white people, Hispanic people, black people, et cetera.

Someone concerned with social epidemiology will ask then well, how are diseases on one hand, and good health on the other, distributed about this population? How are different categories of people then affected by patterns of disease and patterns of good health? And it's a really interesting field of study, I think, because it turns out that poor people are disproportionately suffering from diseases, especially in the American South.

I just read an article in the New York Times focusing on social epidemiology, and it asked about America's third world communities that are near the Mexican border and argued that these people, poor people living near the threshold of poverty in these communities, are suffering from diseases that were typically only seen in the third world and that have been largely eradicated in American society as a whole. But they're coming back in these really, really poor areas.

So this then, you might be thinking, sounds like social conflict theory, and it is. Social conflict theory helps us to see that poor people lack the material resources needed to combat disease in the way that rich people can. So wealthy people can use their influence to make sure that that landfill whose garbage might seep into the water table is not put up in my backyard. So they can fight these things, and they often have health insurance, whereas poor people often don't have health insurance.

Or what can happen then is that we have inequality with respect to disease in society, even in medicine and treatment as well. We have inequality with respect to who can get treatment and what kinds of treatment we can get in this country.

And this is with respect to medicine. Medicine is the social institution that focuses on the treatment and prevention of illness in society. In the US, wealth also affects who can get treatment and who can't. We do not have a socialized system of medicine. We don't have socialized medicine or government-operated health care.

Socialized medicine then is available to everyone at limited or no cost, and people can't be excluded because they have pre-existing conditions or a low level of income. So without socialized medicine, people then are sometimes poor because they have gotten sick. And they have not had health care, and so they become saddled with tons of debt because they wanted to stay alive, they wanted to get treatment, but they didn't have health care.

So they went, and now they have all of this debt, whereas in a socialized system of medicine, that would not happen. So they want to stay alive. They want to fight this disease, same as someone else, same as somebody with more money or with insurance. But they didn't have insurance so instead they get the debt.

And without socialized medicine then, what we're essentially saying is that the life of a poor person is not as valuable or as important as the life of a wealthy person. I mean other countries just as developed as the United States, other advanced countries, have socialized medicine. Sweden has it. Norway has it. Canada has it. And most countries of similar economic standing to the US have socialized medicine, but we do not have the political climate to support it. You could look at the debates surrounding Obamacare and how tough this has been even to get moderate provisions to health care passed.

So it's a tough climate in the US in the political system, and social conflict theory then is really great for understanding the dynamics of health care in American society and the inequalities in social epidemiology, as well as care, treatment, and medicine inequalities as well. This has been an introduction to health and medicine. Have a great rest of your day.

  • Health

    A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.

  • Holistic Medicine

    A type of health care that asserts that all aspects of a person's well-being should be considered in a preventative approach to health management.

  • Social Epidemiology

    Study of how various diseases on the one hand, and good health on the other, are distributed throughout a population.

  • Medicine

    A social institution that focuses on the treatment and prevention of illness.

  • Socialized Medicine

    Government owned and operated health care.