W7: A Change in Perspective of Biomedicine

I’ve realized that throughout this class I’ve learned so much and have reconstructed my views that I had once stood firm. Before this class, I would almost never question biomedicine. I believed that, if practiced “correctly,” it would ideally yield the best result with the patient’s health and wellness as main priority. I realize now how flawed Western medicine practice can be: by how it shortchanges the patient if communication is not effective and treatment is not a collaborative effort on behalf of the doctor and the patient/family; also by the fact that people put too much faith in healthcare workers.

Our readings really opened my eyes to the cultural and explanatory model crises that happen in this country and all over the world. Every week the readings built on one another, such as Arthur Kleinman’s article about care for the chronically ill. He highlighted how much doctor’s should rely on their patients for thorough information of their illness, because “their discourse will lead [the physicians] to the diagnosis of the disease”(130). A major concern is that Western doctors (and government) have a bias that their practice of medicine is always best fit for patients. We’ve seen that this isn’t always the case, with the video from week 4 about Inuit birth. Evacuation policy mandated that Inuit mothers be transferred to Canadian hospitals rather than giving birth in their huts. Later on, evidence showed that non-complicated at home births posed no greater danger than the southern Canadian hospitals. Ultimately it was a waste of money for flying down mothers and it interfered with the birthing traditions that the Inuit had held for centuries.

Further, the problem that practitioners don’t work with their patients or their family for treatment was shown in the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The diagnosis of her epilepsy was obvious for Lia Lee, but the communication of what the family wanted as an outcome from her treatment and how they should go about medicating her was completely absent in the book. The doctors, following their Western belief that every disease is strictly chemical and forgetting to truly consider that Lia was more than “just her seizures,” (271) overlooked her sepsis and forced her family to push aside their cultural beliefs on illness when sending them home with multiple kinds of Western medication. As physicians, they should have considered what the family would have wanted and should have tried to accommodate the Hmong culture as a way to build trust and understanding between doctor and patient. The failure to do so resulted in a loss of trust from a family and the Hmong community.

From an outsider’s perspective, this class has shown that we as patients put too much faith in our healthcare providers; we hold them to such a high regard that we don’t question what they say. In my nursing assistant class, we learn that patient care should be taken as a holistic approach, and the patient should be actively involved in their care plan. Being actively involved in their care plan with effective communication from the physician allows the patient to understand what their physical and mental/ emotional needs are along with understanding what they want out of their treatment. It then allows for more effective treatment with a likely outcome of better perceptions of care from the patient (Ha, Longnecker). Taking this into consideration, I now think that I am more critical of diagnoses that I receive, and as I make my way through PA school and on, I realize how important it is to work as a team player, because care really is all about the patient. The movie that I reviewed, Patch Adams, would be a great addition to this class because it tells a story of a man that embodied the “perfect physician,” taking into consideration all of his patients needs and acting as their equal in order to better treat their illnesses.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, And The Collision Of Two Cultures. New York : Noonday Press, 1998.

Ha, Jennifer F., and Nancy Longnecker. Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review. Vol. 10. N.p.: The Ochsner Journal, 2010. http://www.ochsnerjournal.org/doi/pdf/10.1043/TOJ-09-0040.1.

Kleinman, Arthur. Chapter 7 (excerpts) – “Conflicting Explanatory Models in the Care of the Chronically Ill” In The Illness Narrativespp. 121-122, pp. 128-136

Week 1. “Culture, Health, and Illness: Introduction video,” ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness. MSU. Summer 2016

Week 4. “Inuit birth video,” ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness. MSU. Summer 2016

Week 7. “Limits of Biomedicine video,” ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness. MSU. Summer 2016

4 thoughts on “W7: A Change in Perspective of Biomedicine

  1. Hi Mace, I really enjoyed this post. I especially enjoy your first two paragraphs. I want to refer back to our country’s tendency to be a little (maybe very) ethnocentric. We are raised to believe that we are the greatest country in the world, and while we are great in many ways, our country has it’s flaws, including the medical system, and it’s important to know that other countries out there who do things “differently” doesn’t mean they are doing things wrong. You also mentioned that we put too much faith in our doctor’s and I wish I could disagree but I can’t. I am victim of it myself; I grew up being told, “Listen to the doctor, Brie” and now I find myself saying, “Listen to the doctor, YiaYia.” However, it is never wrong to have a lot of faith in your healthcare provider. I believe a strong belief that someone is going to help you does a lot for your actual health, but there is such a thing as too much faith. As far as the class goes, I like how you pointed out that each week the readings built upon each other, which was something that I never noticed until you said that. Each week, we are able to refer to something that was covered the week before but in a real-world setting, which is SO important to me. What good is learning something if you can’t apply it to the real world?

  2. Hi Mace! I really enjoyed reading your blog this week and I think we agreed on a lot of the same aspects surrounding our medical anthropology course. I, too, did not seem to question biomedicine before this course. I thought the same as you, that if it had been working well for me this whole time, then it might as well be right. Through being a part of this course, I have realized that this is most likely the way that people from other cultures and viewpoints see their own traditional, religious, or cultural health care systems. Because all of us are most likely thinking the same way of our own health care systems, I think it is important that we all work to open up to the idea of varying manners of diagnosis, medication, and treatment. With this, I am referring to both the populations used to western medicine, and the populations which vary based on holistic medicine or homeopathic medicine. This does not mean that everyone has to try out the other medical systems, but the idea of just opening our minds to other possibilities will solve some of the issues occurring with medical anthropology today. This is the overall lesson, or idea, that I have taken away from our course.

  3. I think your post sums up this semester’s information very well, and ties together the themes of the pieces you chose to cite from throughout the course. I find it interesting that there are so many different views on things that every culture experiences, such as birth and death. For some cultures, these events are a part of everyday life. For others, such as those dominated by biomedicine, birth and death have become highly medicalized and removed from everyday life. One is not necessarily better than the other, but I feel that it is definitely wrong to push one culture’s methods or beliefs on another culture that has been doing just fine without the cultural intrusion.

    I particularly liked your last paragraph. I agree that taking a more holistic approach when treating an individual would be more effective than just treating the symptoms that they are exhibiting. This way, how the different facets of their lives will affect their health and illness and relate to their treatment will be taken into consideration. I think that combing biomedicine with the cultural beliefs of the patients who seek out its help would prove to be a lot more effective of a medical system, instead of culture clashing with biomedicine when they are trying to achieve the same goal of improving an individual’s health.

  4. Hi Mace!
    I couldn’t agree more with the fact that the flaws of western medicine suddenly stood out to me throughout this course. I mentioned when commenting to another classmate that I think it because our history, political power, and global economic status has all led us to believe that whatever we do it the absolute best and of the highest standard. We still have shortcomings and are not as effective as we may like to think. I loved learning about the different models and how different cultures perceive different practices and illnesses. I loved that you brought up the point about how much faith we put in our providers. We treat their word with the upmost respect and always assume they would never do anything to harm us. They are the only people who can make up better, or so they claim. We deal with side affects, pain, and can end up harming our bodies more but because it comes from a doctor, it’s okay. Communication really is key and we often are left not knowing what questions to ask and once again, assume that if something is happening, it is okay because the doctor said so. I’m really glad you included that! Great post!
    -Rachel

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