Why our health system should go from biomedical to biopsychosocial

Amy McNeel

“On a scale of one to 10, how bad is the pain?” You’ve probably become quite familiar with this question, as it’s asked at doctors’ offices around the world. Doctors are always focusing on numbers. They ask when symptoms started, they take blood tests and body scans, and so on. This is because today’s health system is using a biomedical approach. The biomedical model is focused solely on physical heath and numbers. However, in recent years, a shift has started to occur. This shift is to a biopsychosocial model of health, in which a patient is examined in a more “wholesome” way. While the shift has been slow and many health professionals are still using the biomedical approach, I believe there needs to be a worldwide shift to a biopsychosocial model of health. 

There is a large difference between these two approaches. According to Athena du Pré’s book “Communicating About Health,” the biomedical method “is based on the premise that ill health is a physical phenomenon that can be explained, identified and treated through physical means.” In other words, doctors who use this model see health as being completely physical: The body is a machine, and it is their job to fix it using medication. While this seems like a very rational approach, I do not believe that it is complete. Yes, health is a physical attribute, but there are also other aspects of a person that need to be looked at. A person’s well-being can be improved by them becoming more social, starting new hobbies or just taking more time to relax. In these situations, the medications prescribed by doctors aren’t effective. 

This is where a biopsychosocial model comes into play. This medical approach takes a more holistic look at the patient. Du Pré goes on to say that the biopsychosocial model “takes into account people’s physical conditions, their thoughts and beliefs, and their social expectations.” Basically, this model takes the biomedical approach and adds to it. This model is a lot better for those who struggle with mental health, as it conveys that mental health can greatly affect overall health. It also shows that medicine doesn’t always heal someone and that no single approach is right for all people. I think that this approach is much more effective because people need to be looked at in a holistic way; the overall health of a person is affected by their mental health, their physical health and their social health. 

Today, we view sickness and health as numbers. In doing this, we neglect to acknowledge other aspects that make people, well, people. Of course, health needs to be looked at in a physical way, and of course medicine is important and oftentimes crucial. But so are the ways people behave and socialize. Too often we overlook simple solutions to problems. People are the product of their environment, beliefs, social elements, and their mental and physical health. So when a person gets sick, why do we only focus on one of those? I believe that in doctors’ offices and hospitals it is time we stop looking at people as numbers and start looking at them as people.