The area of health is one of the fields where anthropology is proving its utility. From the classical studies on ‘doctor-patient’ relationships to the latest contributions to the world of E-Health, our discipline sheds light on these issues and makes visible what for many is still invisible.
The fields of Medicine and Pharmacology are rapidly changing and renewing. In the past century the medical practices prioritized the data obtained through the machines and the professionals over the narratives of the patients themselves. Nowadays, concepts and ideas such as “patient centered approach”, “medical culture” and “personalized medicine” are being increasingly included. Health workers are being trained in handling emotions (the emotions of their patients, and their own emotions during their work). Even on how these emotions intervene in the medical consultation. Health workers must be able to cope with insecurity, respect and other emotions when they interact in their professional work. All this in order to optimize the clinical process and making medical consultation a more positive experience for all.
Technology is one of the most important factors contributing to the fast changes in the health areas and to the population’s conception of their own health. For example, nursing and medical students are now being trained through virtual reality. Can you imagine that?
In Rwanda drones have begun to transport medicines and blood from hospitals to towns, increasing the quality of medical assistance.
It also affects how we take care of our own health. We carry Smartphones in our pockets, and we also reach them when we have health issues. Who hasn’t googled their symptoms before asking a doctor? The online search for health-related information is the third most important activity for all generations of Internet users, including people over the age of 65. But we don’t only google health issues when something is going wrong. We use internet and mobile applications to monitor our health. Millions of people around the world are using apps to measure their stress, monitor their menstrual cycles, or how many calories they ingest, or how much physical exercise they do every day… All for the sake of health? Some anthropologists like David Le Breton or Mari Luz Esteban argue if people controlling what they eat or how much they go to the gym tend to be more concerned about the physical image than the health.
The phenomenon has its controversy. While some people think that the Internet has helped to democratize the medical knowledge, making information more accessible to everyone. Others point out that we are now much more vulnerable to health fraud.
What is undeniable is that health remains to be one of the most important issues to humans. And it should be for anthropology too.
Some references that might interest you:
Tanja Ahlin and Mark Nichter (2013) “The Doctor-Patient Relationship in the Internet Age: Health Practitioners’ Perspective”.
Manel Sort & Anna Sort. (2016) “From Candy Crush to Healthcare – Lessons Learned from Consumers’ Engagement in the Game Industry”
Seow Ting Lee & Julian Lin. (2016) “A Self-Determination Perspective on Online Health Information Seeking: The Internet vs. Face-to-Face Office Visits With Physicians”