Health professionals, their medical interventions and uncertainty: a study focusing on women at midlife

Griffith, F, Green, E and Bendelow, G (2006) Health professionals, their medical interventions and uncertainty: a study focusing on women at midlife. Social Science and Medicine, 62 (5). pp. 1078-1090. ISSN 0277-9536

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Health professionals face a tension between focusing on the individual and attending to health issues for the population as a whole. This tension is intrinsic to medicine and gives rise to medical uncertainty, which here is explored through accounts of three medical interventions focused on women at midlife: breast screening, hormone replacement therapy and bone densitometry. The accounts come from interviews with UK health professionals using these medical interventions in their daily work. Drawing on the analysis of Fox [(2002). Health and Healing: The public/private divide (pp. 236–253). London: Routledge] we distinguish three aspects of medical uncertainty and explore each one of them in relation to one of the interventions. First is uncertainty about the balance between the individual and distributive ethic of medicine, explored in relation to breast reening. Second is the dilemma faced by health professionals when using medicial evidence generated through studies of populations and applying this to individuals. We explore this dilemma for hormone replacement therapy. Thirdly there is uncertainty because of the lack of a conceptual framework for understanding how new micro knowledge, such as human genetic information, can be combined with knowledge of other biological and social dimensions of health. The accounts from the bone denistometry clinic indicate the beginnings of an understanding of the need for such a framework, which would acknowledge complexity, recognising that factors from many different levels of analysis, from heredity through to social factors, interact with each other and influence the individual and their health. However, our analysis suggests biomedicine continues to be dominated by an individualised, context free, concept of health and health risk with individuals alone responsible for their own health and for the health of the population. This may continue to dominate how we perceive responsibilities for health until we establish a conceptual framework that recognises the complex interaction of many factors at macro and micro level affecting health.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This paper represents a major output from an ESRC-funded `Innovatory Health Technologies Initiative' and has been cited in debates about HRT. Bendelow was a grant holder, and contributed to research design, analysis and writing of paper.
Keywords: uncertainity, health,health professionals, tension
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Depositing User: Chris Keene
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2008
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2017 12:09
Google Scholar:13 Citations

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