Medicalize me: Experts look at how our perceptions of illness are shaped

Medicalize me: Experts look at how our perceptions of illness are shaped by drug ads, patient empowerment, and more

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Do prescription drug ads make people think theyre sick when theyre not, or create disease out of thin air? Does the empowered patient movement mean that doctors have lost some of their professional clout when it comes to making diagnoses and prescribing treatment?

These questions and more are the focus of a set of probing essays in a special section of the Feb. 24 issue of the journal The Lancet, all addressing the topic of medicalization and what it means in modern society.

The essays, which grew out of an international workshop, zero in on the fact that even the word medicalization has a different meaning today than 30 years ago.

When the term first came into use in the 1970s, it was used critically to mean the evil actions of doctors who turned deviation from the norm into disease, and imposed medical authority on aspects of everyday life such as birth, aging or dying, says Jonathan Metzl, M.D., Ph.D., a University of Michigan Medical School psychiatrist and U-M womens studies researcher who co-organized the workshop and wrote or co-wrote two of the six Lancet articles. But today, its used more in connection with the actions of pharmaceutical companies, and we need to understand its effects better.

The six essays focus on the intersections between medicine and society, including the role of the physician and the patient, and of the values, wants and needs that each doctor or patient brings to each interaction.

Metzl co-authored the introduction with Rebecca M. Herzig, Ph.D., a professor in Women and Gender Studies at Bates College in Maine who worked with him to organize the workshop. They report that a Google search for the term medicalization (and its British spelling, medicalisation) yields more than 358,000 hits most of which have to do with the drug industry

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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