Biopsychosocial vs. Biomedical Model of Health

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The biomedical model and the biopsychosocial model are both representations of health commonly accepted in modern society. The biomedical model considers the absence of disease is physical wellness. This model is good practice but it has limitations. On the other hand, the biopsychosocial model takes into account the whole person which has led to extensive research in many aspects of wellness. It addresses more than physical well being as many people now are ill but they have no presence of disease.

Socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and generational differences all play important roles in the model of wellness (Brannon & Feist, 2010). .During the past century, industrialized nations have witnessed a paradigm shift from infectious disease to chronic disease as the primary causes of death and disability. Treatment of chronic disease can be a lifelong process because many illnesses such as cancer, stroke and heart disease develop and persist or recur. A biomedical physician would diagnose chronic disease after an individual has acquired it and treat the health disorder biologically with possible medicines and surgical procedures.

In contrast, a biopsychosocial physician would focus on the biological aspects in addition to the psychological and social aspects of the malady (Brannon & Feist, 2010). For example, a cancer patient may be prescribed chemotherapy by a biomedical physician. In contrast, the biopsychosocial physician may prescribe chemotherapy and observe the individual’s and the family’s response to the disease treating the patients depression and anxiety of being ill. Research has shown that positive mental and emotional support is important in the recovery of disease (Twister, 2008).

The biomedical physician may prescribe regular check-ups to observe if the disease persists or recurs but, in addition to the biological check-ups, a biopsychosocial physician may focus on preventive measures to reduce the chances of recurrence of disease including a wellness plan of positive lifestyle habits and mental health. Wellness is more than just absence of disease and one of the greatest strengths of the biopsychosocial method is preventive care. For example, an individual who is significantly overweight may be absent of disease but are they “healthy”?

Research suggests that being overweight is unhealthy (Graves, 2010). “What about someone who is normal weight and feels fine, but whose lungs are being damaged from smoking cigarettes or whose arteries are becoming clogged from eating foods that are high in saturated fats? Are people with these signs healthy? We would probably say that they are not “sick”, but are they less healthy than they could be” (Ware, 1993). Socioeconomic status and health are strongly correlated due to both finances and education.

Socioeconomic status affects lifestyle choices, diet and disparity in health care access. People in low SES often does not have health insurance and are denied access to health care services. Research studies suggest that lower SES is linked to poorer health outcomes (American Psychological Association, 2012). There are also generational differences with regard to which model patients prefer in seeking healthcare (Brannon & Feist, 2010). Many older adults perceive the biopsychosocial approach as new age.

They are from a generation when infectious disease was the primary cause of death and disability and treatment to disease was approached with a biomedical method. On the other hand, many young people perceive the biomedical model as out dated. There is ongoing research in many aspects of disease and treatment. Biomedical research focuses on treatments of specific pathogens (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 2011) but biopsychosocial research takes into account the whole person which has led to extensive research in many aspects of wellness.

Modern science acknowledges that psychological processes perform a significant role in health. Psychological processes interact with biological and social processes to have an effect on a variety of health outcomes (Brannon & Feist, 2010). For example, longitudinal research studies have shown that positive emotional states boost an individual’s immune system and a higher level of immune function than those with a negative emotional attitude (Rosenkrantz et al. , 2003). In conclusion, health and sickness are ends of a continuum with death at one end and optimal wellness at the other.

These concepts overlap and cannot be totally separated from each other (Ware, 1993). The biomedical model defines wellness as the absence of disease and the biopsychosocial model considers wellness a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being. Socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and generational differences all play important roles in the model of wellness. Research continues to show a correlation in psychological, biological and social functioning in regards to our health.


  • American Psychological Association (2012). Socioeconomic Status and Health Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: http://www. apa. org/about/gr/issues/socioeconomic/ses-health. aspx
  • Brannon, L. & Feist, J. (2010). Health psychology (7th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. Graves, G. (2010). http://www. cnn. com/2010/HEALTH/01/21/obesity. discrimination/index. html
  • Rosenkranz, M. A. , Jackson, D. C. , Dalton, K. M. , Dolski, I. , Ryff, C. D. , Singer, B. H. , Muller, D. , Kalin, N. H. and Davidson, R. J. (2003) Affective style and in vivo immune response: neurobehavioral mechanisms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 100(19), 11148-52.
  • Twister, M. (2008). Article Wonders. Effect of positive mental attitude on illness and recovery. Retrieved from: http://articlewonders. com/articles/73/1/Effect-of-positive-mental-attitude-on-illness-and-recovery/Page1. html
  • Ware, J. (1993). Introductory to Health Psychology. Retrieved from: (http://www. psych. yorku. ca/jirvine/3440/lectures/health_psychology_lecture_1_files/frame. htm.
  • Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (2011). Research Achievements. Retrieved from: http://www. wi. mit. edu/about/achievements. html.

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