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Beyond medicine: understanding health through various stances

The different models of health and disease


Various models can show what factors produce health outcomes between individuals and populations. This article looks at the biomedical, social, humanistic and biopsychosocial models, reviewing each through examples and its applications to the real world. 

With this said, every model has advantages and disadvantages because they are imperfect. Each one is essential as it provides a way to treat patients, so they need to be used alongside one another to address the different aspects involved in a person’s health. 

Biomedical model- figure 1

To start with the most familiar, the biomedical model looks at finding the cause of illness through a physiological perspective, i.e. finding malfunctions in organs and cells. For example, infections are caused by microorganisms, or metabolic disorders usually occur due to at least one critical genetic mutation.  

This model has some advantages, such as using evidence-based strategies to treat patients, and it has contributed to medical breakthroughs that have improved overall health. Also, it can lead to effective treatment plans through medical interventions to handle specific diseases.

However, the biomedical model does not consider external factors involved in illness. Moreover, it focuses on curing diseases instead of preventative plans that may be more successful, and its recommendation of pharmaceutical drugs for certain conditions may cause addiction, which is another health problem.

Social-ecological model- figure 2

Now, the social-ecological model considers societal factors, ranging from economic to political, that are influential in population health. It helps investigate non-communicable and infectious diseases.

An advantage of this model is it emphasises preventative strategies, which can lead to long-term advancements in health. Moreover, it encourages cooperation within communities in shaping initiatives that benefit everyone and regards collaboration between multiple work sectors like education and law enforcement as vital to progressing society.


A significant downside of the social model is that it is complicated, suggesting it is difficult to tackle all of these determinants of health effectively. In turn, allocating resources to resolve specific issues would take much work. Lastly, some detractors of this model believe it absolves people’s responsibility for their health. 

Humanistic model- figure 3

Subsequently, the humanistic model is about an individual’s wellbeing, experiences, and self-exploration. Its applications are mainly in psychology, though it can manifest in other areas of life through a person making decisions they are satisfied with.

A few advantages of this model include prioritising a person’s autonomy, encouraging their psychological well-being, and facilitating collaboration between clinicians and patients in treatment.

On the other hand, only some can think for themselves or their experiences; the model relies on subjectivity, so it can be challenging to measure parts of well-being, and it is more beneficial for chronic conditions than acute ailments. 

Biopyschosocial model- figure 4

The biopsychosocial (BPS) model includes biological, psychological and social factors related to a patient’s health. Therefore, it can be used for any individual with chronic or acute disease(s) and is used broadly in psychology between the psychiatrist/ counsellor and the patient. 

One advantage is that it aids primary care doctors in comprehending the interrelations between an illness's biological and psychosocial parts. In turn, this strengthens the patient-clinician relationship. Similar to the social model, this can promote preventative measures against diseases.

However, the addition of biological and psychosocial factors makes the model complicated to implement in clinical contexts. Moreover, there needs to be more distinct guidelines for its use in treating patients compared to the biomedical model. Lastly, applying the biopsychosocial can change between healthcare practices, possibly leading to different standards of care. 


Reflecting on the models outlined, the biopsychosocial model seems to be the perfect one compared to the others because it includes all of the models above or others not mentioned in this article. In turn, it succeeds in providing a balanced view of health. On the other hand, as iterated before, the BPS model has its disadvantages. Thus, it may require more refinements to be widely implemented across healthcare settings. 

Written by Sam Jarada

Related article: Key discoveries in public health


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Williams H. What Is the Biomedical Model? The Health Board. 2011. 

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