The bio-medical model of ill health has been at the forefront of western medicine since the end of the eighteenth century and grew stronger with the progress in modern science. This model underpinned the medical training of doctors. Traditionally medicine had relied on folk remedies passed down from generations and ill health was surrounded in superstition and religious lore with sin and evil spirits as the culprit and root of ill health. The emergence of scientific thinking questioned the traditional religious view of the world and is linked to the progress in medical practice and the rise of the biomedical model. Social and historical events and circumstances were an important factor in its development as explanations about disease were being found in biological systems of the body that contradicted the belief that linked causation to divine intervention or superstition. Cartesian dualism and Newtonian physics were influential in the academic world and there was a push to break away from the superstitions of the past. (Albrecht 2003 p: 15; Giddens 2009 p: 391; Barry & Yuill 2008 p 31).
By 1920 state regulation of medicine gave it enormous power with hospitals at the top of regional hierarchies. The profession was the first body to be consulted by government in matters of health. The model of health used by a society and individual cultures has important implications. The allocation of government money to fund healthcare is just one of them. Resources are allocated for the diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions and diseases. Social acceptance of a condition being referred to as an illness provides rewards including medical treatment, social acceptance of a sick role and financial benefits. Also the medical view of conditions changes and evolves. Soldiers shot in the First World War for cowardice are now recognized as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. In the sociology of medicine Parson (1951) regarded medicine as functional in social terms. By tackling the person’s problems in medical terms the tendency towards deviance that was represented by ill health could be safely directed, until they could return to their normal self. (Lawrence 1994: p 64-65: BMJ 2004: Parson cited in Gabe, Bury & Elston 2006, p 127).
The biomedical model relies on several assumptions including the concept of mind body dualism with the mind and body seen as separate entities and accepting that they can be treated separately. The body itself was viewed as machine with a broken part that could be repaired or healed by an expert. There is a belief that a disease has its origin in a specific and knowable cause. The sick body can be examined, treated and repaired without taking other factors into consideration. The doctor holds a detached view of the patient and treats the body in isolation without considering other reasons that contribute to the condition.
(Barry & Yuill p 25; Giddens p 392; Nettleton pp: 3-4).