Most ill health never gets shown to a doctor, especially minor conditions. According to sociologists of health, there is a hierarchy of resort, in which most o
Acupuncture has been practised in China for over 3000 years. Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
f us only go to the GP with a condition on average one time in ten. This has been so ever since the ‘birth of the clinic’ in the early nineteenth century. The growth of medicine has coincided in the West with an increase in affluence, which, combined with high levels of literacy and an explosion in communications, has led to the development of a plural market for health that extends far beyond conventional modern medicine. Within this market, there has been a premium on holistic aspects of treatment - especially psychological and spiritual dimensions - that biomedicine at its
organised medicine has never had total dominance of the health marketplace
most scientific and technological had pushed to the margins. But there is a historical dimension to this story: organised medicine has never had total dominance of the health marketplace, and the relationship between doctors, other providers and the public has always been in flux. Governments as well as individuals have vested interests in patients treating themselves. Beca
Dipped in vinegar, these belts of copper and zinc were described as 'self-applicable' for the cure of 'nervous and chronic diseases without medicine'. Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
use of ever-increasing pressures on health systems, orthodox medical practitioners have been led to support patients taking greater charge of their own health. And what a range of treatments we can sample: a trip to the health-food store offers a perplexing range of dietary supplements and foods. Look down the list of alternative health practitioners and one can try everything from spiritual healing to types of therapies that look like orthodox medicine gone feral. And there are the competitors to modern allopathic medicine such as homeopathy and osteopathy. Once rejected outright by what has become conventional medicine, they are increasingly tolerated by those parts of the medical establishment that are beginning to think that questions of health and disease may not be as clear cut as the reductionist model may have suggested.