PLoS Medicine just published a whole lot on Medical Anthropology

Thanks to Paul Wren’s post which he submitted to our first blog carnival, I’ve kept my eye out for PLoS Medicine publications on medical anthropology. It hasn’t been even a week, and my patience has paid off.

I haven’t had much time to read each abstract, let alone each paper but they seem very strong and relate to one another. Each seem to build on how cultures a strong role in how we all conduct medicine, from a patient’s perspective to the health care provider. The ethnographic research article overviews race, working conditions, living conditions, and health of migrant workers and each of the essays write about how medicine is overemphasizing biotechnology and missing out on the social context. Here are the three:

The first is an essay titled, “Anthropology in the Clinic: The Problem of Cultural Competency and How to Fix It,” and a little teaser:

“Cultural competency has become a fashionable term for clinicians and researchers. Yet no one can define this term precisely enough to operationalize it in clinical training and best practices.It is clear that culture does matter in the clinic. Cultural factors are crucial to diagnosis, treatment, and care. They shape health-related beliefs, behaviors, and values. But the large claims about the value of cultural competence for the art of professional care-giving around the world are simply not supported by robust evaluation research showing that systematic attention to culture really improves clinical services. This lack of evidence is a failure of outcome research to take culture seriously enough to routinely assess the cost-effectiveness of culturally informed therapeutic practices, not a lack of effort to introduce culturally informed strategies into clinical settings.”

Another essay titled, “Health Is Still Social: Contemporary Examples in the Age of the Genome

“In 1999, Leon Eisenberg wrote an essay entitled, ‘Does social medicine still matter in an era of molecular medicine?’ Anticipating the scientific discussion that would accompany the complete mapping of the human genome, followed by hubristic predictions of an end to disease through the introduction of gene-based therapy, Eisenberg reminded his readers of the inherent social basis of disease causation. ‘The developments in molecular biology highlight the salience of the social environment and underscore the urgency to rectify inequity and injustice. All medicine is inescapably social,’ he wrote.In this Essay, we revisit those concerns and expand them to discuss the current state of scholarship on the social causes of, experiences of, and responses to disease. We contend that social medicine is as important now as it has ever been. The field of social medicine includes various social and cultural studies of health and medicine, and in this article, we will focus on one domain of these studies—the social roots of disease—to illustrate the contemporary importance of social medicine.”

And last, but not least, a research article, “An Ethnographic Study of the Social Context of Migrant Health in the United States

“Structural racism and anti-immigrant practices determine the poor working conditions, living conditions, and health of migrant workers. Subtle racism serves to reduce awareness of this social context for all involved, including clinicians. The paper concludes with strategies toward improving migrant health in four areas: health disparities research, clinical interactions with migrant laborers, medical education, and policy making.”

I’m glad to see such a high profile journal is integrating social issues into medical research and publications.

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