HEALTH,HEALTH CARE AND DISABILITY
The everyday life of a doctor like Atul Gawande is filled with its high and low points: Some patients benefit from medical treatments that they receive from physicians. whereas others have sustained injuries or developed illnesses that are too severe or are beyond the scope of current knowledge and practice in the health care system to be sucsessfully resolved. Physicians are human beings just like the patients they treat; however, much more is expected of them because of the availability of health care in the United States and other high-income nations and also because the dominant role of doctors in modern high-tech medicine has led many individuals to believe that virtually anything should be possible when it comes to one's health and
longevity. However, this assum tion is often not an accurate reflection of how health. Illness. and health care actually work. In t.his chapter, we will explore the dynamics of health, health care. and disability from a sociological perspective, as well as look at health-related issues through the eyes of those who have experienced medical problems. Before reading on, test your knowledge about health, illness, and health care by taking the quiz in Box 18.1. What does the concept of health mean to you! At one time, health was considered to be simply the absence of disease. However, the World Health Organization (2003: 7) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. According t,) this definition, health involves not only the absence of disease but also a positive sense of wellness.
In. other words, health is a multidim national phenomenon: It includes physical, social. and psychological factors. What is illness? Illness refers to an interference
with health; like health, illness is socially defined and may change over time and between cultures. For, example. in the United States and Canada, obesity is viewed as unhealthy, whereas in other times and places. obesity indicated that a person was prosperous and healthy. What happens when a person is perceived to have an illness or disease? He ling involves both personal and institutional responses to perceived illness and disease. One aspect of institutional healing is health care and the health care delivery system in a society. Health care is any activity intended to improve health. When people experience illness, they often seek medical attention in hopes of having their health restored. A vital part of health care is medicine-an institutionalized system for the scientific diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of illness.