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Understanding the Social and Medical Models of Health

Jun 14, 2023 | 0 comments

Jun 14, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Define the Social and Medical Model of Health? Describe the Similarities and Differences between the 2 Models


Health is a situation or a state of complete social, mental and physical wellbeing, and not just infirmity or disease absence (Macdonald 2003). There exist two competing health models known as medical and social models of health. Models and factors determine the definition of diseases, illness and health. As Mechanic (1983) observed, the definition of health by a practitioner is different from the way the general society defines it. The models of health differ very much, and they also play a significant role in what should be or should not be the concern of public health. This essay will define the social and medical models of health, and discuss their similarities and differences.  Health models makes us better understand why some people easily take care of their health compared to the others


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According to Eckersley et al (2001), the social model of health emphasizes the significance of the changes to be effected by the society, and empowers individuals to take charge of their own lifestyles and health, to make a healthier population. The model focuses on the sociological factors associated to illness like unemployment, poor housing and poverty. For instance, according to UK national statistics (2009), the reflection of impact of social class and poverty has on health and illness is in the figures of life expectancy. Although, in UK, the life expectancy has risen, UK national statistics (2009) found out a large gap in the life exists between the working and the middle class.

The medical model only defines health as a disease absence and forms the most influential and powerful health discourse. Kemnitz (2010) found out that the medical model is the central medical knowledge system in the western world, and its main purpose is the treatment of diseases in people. The main attention in this model gets directed on the physical functioning of a person and gives a definition of illness and bad health as the presence of disease. Culyer (1991) observed that the model has opinions and views biological status and diseases that get determined genetically. The body as portrayed in this model functions like a machine, where if it breaks down, the doctor will fix it.

Friedman et al (2007) pointed out that the model has been in existence for centuries and used by the health care professionals for diagnosis of diseases. It concentrates on the disease physical processes. It looks at the physical functioning of an individual, and describes illness and diseases as caused physically by infections or injury. The central focus of the model is on treatment instead of prevention. It is for reduction of treatment of morbidity of unhealthy, premature death, disease conditions.

Both social and medical models of health emphasize and try to treat people through different means. The medical model treats by use of science and medicine while the social model applies emotional and social factors of how diseases, illness and injury got caused. The underlying similarity is that both get applied in the treatment of people.

Baum et al (2001) observed that both models focus on root causes of an illness or a disease. Medical problem diagnoses an illness before treating it. Similarly, the social model of health focuses on an illness cure by examining the sociological root causes and its origin.

According to Small (2006), social and medical model of health aims to free the patients from diseases defined medically. The medical model frees patients by treatment using medicine and science. The social model frees the patient by empowering the patient with knowledge of living a healthier lifestyle and practicing preventive measures.

Both models also apply medical knowledge in treating the unhealthy patients. This is scientific in nature because as many as the medical model uses the technologically advanced methods and medication; the social model applies the contemporary therapies like the reflexology in treating patients.

Another similarity in both social and medical model is that the doctor applies both to a patient. The doctor can use social model of health to persuade a patient and even advice the patient to change their lifestyles to prevent some non communicable diseases. Similarly, the applied the medical model in treating acute and physical illnesses (Kronenfeld 2003)

The differences between social and medical model of health when compared are many. Bruun et al (2002) pointed out that the social model of health focused more on the social and environmental health determinants, and not only on the biomedical determinants. The medical model in contrast gets centered on individual patients.

According to Macdonald (2003); the core analysis structure of the medical model encompasses analysis of physical signs and symptoms of illness. It is also more reduced to the part that gets disordered. The social model, on the other hand, is the social health determinants where environmental and social conditions of people live and work.

The medical model also deals with diseases, and their exact therapies. The social model of health, on the other hand, got founded on the knowledge that, for gains in health to be realized, we need to meet the essential needs of people.

Social model of health recognizes the social and environmental factors that impact on health and gives inequities. The medical model in contrast, works well for illnesses caused by organic diseases primarily, albeit with critical limitations when more known cure or cause are not known specifically (Mechanic 1983).

The medical model of health provides preventive vaccinations like the flu jabs that help people in the long run. However, the social model of health does not provide preventive remedies to a health problem (Eckersley et al 2001).


Human kind was believed does not allow nature to be nature. The accepted healthcare vision is that improvements come from medical science advancements. Medical model of health primarily focuses on eradication of diseases through effective diagnosis and treatment. The social model of health gives emphasis on societal changes and changes in people lifestyles for a healthier population. Considering these health models makes us better understand why some people easily take care of their health compared to the others.


Macdonald, T. H. (2003) The social significance of health promotion. London: Routledge. Retrieved on 24th august 2013 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=93102.

Mechanic, D. (1983) Handbook of health, health care, and the health professions. New York: Free Press.

Eckersley, R., Dixon, J., & Douglas, R. M. (2001) The social origins of health and well-being. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Kemnitz, A. (2010) A simple model of health insurance competition. Munich: CESifo.

Culyer, A. J. (1991) The Economics of health. Aldershot, Hants, England, E. Elgar Pub.

Friedman, H. S., & Silver, R. C. (2007) Foundations of health psychology. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Baum, A., Revenson, T. A., & Singer, J. E. (2001) Handbook of health psychology. Mahwah, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Small, M. F. (2006) The culture of our discontent: beyond the medical model of mental illness. Washington, D.C., Joseph Henry Press.

Uk Statistics Authority. (2009) Priorities for designation as national statistics: January 2009, report 3. London, UK Statistics Authority.

Kronenfeld, J. J. (2003) Reorganizing health care delivery systems: problems of managed care and other models of health care delivery. Amsterdam, JAI.

Bruun Jensen, B., Simovska, V., & Cheshlarov, M. (2002) Models of health promoting schools in Europe. Copenhagen, European Network of Health Promoting Schools, Technical Secretariat.

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