The biomedical model


The biomedical model of medicine is the current, dominant model used by physicians in the diagnosis of disease. This model mainly focuses on the physical processes, such as the pathology, the biochemistry and the physiology of a diseases

The biomedical model of illness combines several closely related sets of beliefs, which can be summarised as follows: (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004.)

  1. All illness, symptoms and signs are due to an underlyingabnormality in the body, which is called disease.
  2. Eventually, all diseases give rise to symptoms, “and although other factors may influence the consequences of the disease, they are not related to its development or manifestations.” (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004.)
  3. The absence of disease is the basis of health.
  4. Mental phenomena, like emotional disturbance, delusions etc., “are separate from and unrelated to other disturbances of bodily function.” (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004.)
  5. Little or no responsibility can be attributed to the patient for the presence or cause of the illness. He is only a victim of circumstances.
  6. Although cooperation with treatment is expected from a patient, he is a passive recipient of the treatment

Concerns about the impact of the biomedical model in providing health care

In the biomedical health-care system, the care provider does not have enough time to listen to all of the patient’s concerns and thus offers ineffective care. The system does not address the many psychological risk factors for both morbidity and mortality, and ignores the psychosocial aspects.  This leads to unnecessary utilization of medical and surgical services. Further, the current model does not fully tackle issues like “treatment adherence and lifestyle improvement or psychological interventions for acute illness, and management of stressful medical procedures.” (Levant R, 2005)

Success and strength of the biomedical model

The biomedical model has proved to be effective at diagnosing and treating most diseases and has “been associated with huge improvement in medical care.” (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004.) Throughout the course of history, the model has established the reasons for the occurrence of diseases, and has come up with very effective treatment strategies. “The biomedical model is clearly relevant for many disease based illnesses, has intuitive appeal, and is supported by a wealth of supporting biological findings.”(Wade D, Halligan P, 2004.)

Drug-based treatment and surgical procedures have become far more effective as well as safer for the individual.

Numerous lives have been saved through interventions such as treatment of trauma, cancer, and the reduction of mortality from cardiovascular disease.  These are definitely significant contributions to society (Thiele D, 2004.)

Weakness and drawbacks of the biomedical model

The biomedical model does not take into account the role of a person’s psychology or society in the cause of disease and its treatment. By ignoring the patient’s psychology, the care provider might see only a ‘patient’ or a ‘case’ and not the real person behind it.

The biomedical model of illness may not be able to fully explain many forms of illness.

This is because of the assumption that all illness has a single underlying cause, which is disease (pathology) and that removal or attenuation of the disease will result in a return to health. However, evidence exists that this assumption is wrong. (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004).

This assumption “has led to medicalisation of commonly experienced anomalous sensations and often disbelief of patients who present with illness without any demonstrable disease process.” (Wade D, Halligan P, 2004).  In other words, it can be said that the biomedical model does not explain functional somatic syndromes and illness without evident disease.


Although the biomedical model is effective in the diagnosis of a disease, and in developing treatment strategies and surgical procedures, the limitations of the medical model cannot be denied.

The model does not effectively incorporate psychological, psychosocial, or spiritual factors.  In order to be a truly useful model it should be radically changed so that it incorporates the above factors.  There is a need to transform our biomedical health-care system to one based on the biopsychosocial model, which recognises psychological and social factors.


Levant R. (2005). Health care for the whole person .  Retrieved November 3, from

Thiele D. (2004). Impact of the biomedical model of disease for aboriginal people.  Retrieved November 4, from,%20D-270.html

Wade D, Halligan P. (2004). Do biomedical models of illness make for good healthcare systems? BMJ; 329:1398-1401.

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