- A sociological approach emphasizes the relationship between health, medicine, and society. In particular, our social backgrounds influence our health and access to health care.
- Sociological perspectives on health and illness fall into the functional, conflict, and interactionist approaches encountered in previous chapters. The functional view emphasizes the importance of health for a society’s stability and the roles that people play when they are sick. The conflict view stresses inequality in the quality of health and health-care delivery and efforts by physicians to monopolize the practice of medicine to increase their profits. According to the interactionist view, health and illness are social constructions subject to people’s and society’s interpretations. The interactionist view also studies how medical professionals and patients interact and the way professionals manage understandings of such interaction.
- Health and the quality of health care differ widely around the world and reflect global inequality. The earth’s poorest nations have extremely high rates of infant mortality and life-threatening diseases such as AIDS and very low life expectancy.
- The United States lags behind most other industrial nations in important health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy. Moreover, serious disparities exist within the United States in the social distribution of health, as evidenced by the study of social epidemiology.
- Social class, race and ethnicity, and gender all affect the quality of health. The health of poor people is worse than that of the nonpoor. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans all fare worse than whites on many health indicators, in large part because of their poverty and history of discrimination. Women fare worse than men on several heath indicators, but men have lower life expectancies because of their higher rates of certain life-threatening illnesses.
- Health care in the United States today faces several problems. The United States is alone among the world’s industrial nations in not offering universal national health insurance; its absence is thought to help account for the country’s low ranking in the industrial world on major health indicators. Managed care has also come under criticism for restricting coverage of important medical procedures and prescription medicines. Racial and gender bias in health care is another problem that has adverse effects on the nation’s health. Other quality-of-care problems include tired physicians, a lack of emergency room physicians, and numerous mistakes made in hospitals.
Using What You Know
You have been working for two months as a volunteer in a hospital in or near your hometown. Your duties include bringing food to patients, talking with them, and otherwise helping them to feel comfortable. However, you have noticed that many of the physicians and nurses you have seen coming into patients’ rooms do not wash their hands, and you doubt that they washed their hands immediately before entering the rooms. What, if anything, do you do? Explain your answer.
What You Can Do
To help deal with the health and health-care problems discussed in this chapter, you may wish to do any of the following:
- Volunteer at a local hospital or health clinic.
- Start a group on your campus to advocate for national health insurance, or join an existing group in the nearby community.
- Volunteer for a local agency that tries to address the health-care needs of low-income children and their families.