Get your medical priorities straight

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Since when has normal pregnancy been a medical condition? A new study from Brandeis researchers published in the current issue of Social Science and Medicine points to an increasing trend toward medicalizing what amounts to ordinary human experience and the related, increasing costs of treating a dozen of these normal conditions.

“Medicalization” is the process by which a human condition becomes something a doctor thinks is treatable. These are experiences which are researched by pathologists, determined to be diagnosable and treatable with a variety of approaches including prescription drugs. Medicalization is also referred to pathologization or, from a more cheeky point of view, disease mongering.

It has long been accepted that treating a broad definition of medicalized conditions had a health benefit -- and also a cost. Not until this report, has the cost been studied.

There has been a vigorous trend toward medicalization of human conditions. Things like male pattern baldness, sleep disorders, and body image are among those experiences now being approached as a medical condition. You will also find menopause, infertility, ADHD, erectile dysfunction, caffeine intoxication, and even jet lag now showing up as medicalized conditions to be diagnosed and treated for successful recovery by doctors. Peter Conrad and his Brandeis team looked at spending on a subset of medicalized conditions and discovered that they accounted for $77.1 billion in spending in 2005 or 3.9% of total domestic health care expenditures.

“We spend more on these medicalized conditions than on cancer, heart disease, or public health,” said Conrad. “While medicalization is unlikely to be a key driver of skyrocketing health care costs, $77 billion represent s a substantial dollar sum.”

The study made no ethical proclamation as to the good or bad of medicalization. Instead, the point was to call attention to where our health dollars go. “By estimating the amount spent on medicalized human problems, we’ve raised the obvious question as to whether this spending is “appropriate”,” said Conrad.

Any time a deviation is labeled a disease, it’s potentially dangerous. And now we see it’s potentially expensive. We really should look at our experiences and decide for ourselves, is this normal? Perhaps some discomfort is part of a life and does not require medical management.

Source: Science Daily, Social Science and Medicine


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