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Social Issues in Diagnosis

An Introduction for Students and Clinicians

Understanding the social process of diagnosis is critical to improving doctor-patient relationships and health outcomes.

Diagnosis, the classification tool of medicine, serves an important social role. It confers social status on those who diagnose, and it impacts the social status of those diagnosed. Studying diagnosis from a sociological perspective offers clinicians and students a rich and sometimes provocative view of medicine and the cultures in which it is practiced. Social Issues in Diagnosis describes how diagnostic labels and the process of diagnosis are anchored in groups and structures as much as they are in the interactions between patient and doctor.

The sociological perspective is informative, detailed, and different from what medical, nursing, social work, and psychology students—and other professionals who diagnose or work with diagnoses—learn in a pathophysiology or clinical assessment course. It is precisely this difference that should be integral to student and clinician education, enriching the professional experience with improved doctor-patient relationships and potentially better health outcomes.

Chapters are written by both researchers and educators and reviewed by medical advisors. Just as medicine divides disease into diagnostic categories, so have the editors classified the social aspects of diagnosis into discrete areas of reflection, including
• Classification of illness
• Process of diagnosis
• Phenomenon of uncertainty
• Diagnostic labels
• Discrimination
• Challenges to medical authority
• Medicalization
• Technological influences
• Self-diagnosis

Additional chapters by clinicians, including New York Times columnist Lisa Sanders, M.D., provide a view from the front line of diagnosis to round out the discussion. Sociology and pre-med students, especially those prepping for the new MCAT section on social and behavioral sciences, will appreciate the discussion questions, glossary of key terms, and CLASSIFY mnemonic.

About the Authors

Annemarie Goldstein Jutel is an associate professor at Victoria University of Wellington and author of Putting a Name to It: Diagnosis in Contemporary Society, published by Johns Hopkins. Kevin Dew is a professor of sociology at Victoria University of Wellington.


"The broad scope of Social Issues in Diagnosis makes this book not only useful for premed or medical students but also undergraduate courses in medical anthropology or public health."

- Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Very useful, relevant, and easily approached text on an important subject."

- Amanda Howe - British Journal of General Practice

"The editors and contributors have offered a significant addition to the cultural competency discussion, whether for the student and classroom environment or for attendings thinking about their individual practice style and habits. This is a tremendous addition to every academic library."

- Vincent F. Carr - Doody's Review Service

"This edited collection of works...further illuminates diagnosis, providing an insight into the workings of medicine and the difficulties and importance of diagnosis in contemporary health care...Social Issues in Diagnosis shows persuasively how diagnosis is a collaborative process of development that involves a range of stakeholders and healthcare professionals over a period of time...The editors and authors make a significant contribution to the emerging subfield of the sociology of diagnosis."

- Natalie Wotherspoon - Sociology of Health and Illness

"Jutel and Dew's book, Social Issues in Diagnosis, demonstrates quite clearly the vital importance of informing practice with scholarship from academic disciplines... Given its accessibility, this book is likely to be a star in medical schools and other clinical training institutions as a part of any course where the object is to prepare neophytes for the human realities of practice... Student and trainees are not the only populations that will enjoy and benefit from this book. Any clinician who wants to think deeply and academically about the nature and context of their work will find much practical value inside its pages."

- C. Albert Bardi - PsycCRITIQUES

"Range of perspectives gathered from different disciples and areas of the world that [provide] the reader with a balanced and global critique of diagnosis."

- Anna Olaitan - Nursing Times


"Annemarie Jutel is a leading scholar on the social aspects of medical diagnosis. In this volume, she and Kevin Dew bring together a fascinating array of chapters that shed new light on myriad aspects of diagnosis. The book will be of value to social scientists, students and clinicians."

- Peter Conrad, Brandeis University, author of The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders

"Amidst a renaissance of interest in the art and science of diagnosis in medicine, Social Issues in Diagnosis is like a breath of fresh air. For the first time, the diagnostic process is considered from a sociologic perspective, offering unique, comprehensive, and authoritative insights. Enlightening reading for patients and physicians alike."

- Mark L. Graber, Senior Fellow, RTI International, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine, Founder and President, Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine

"Diagnosis is the foundation of medical care. In this excellent book, the authors engage us to consider what diagnosis means for society, and how society, in turn, influences diagnosis and care provision. An important addition to the medical literature, and a must-read for all healthcare providers."

- Leana Wen, M.D., attending physician and Director, Patient-Centered Care Research, Department of Emergency Medicine, George Washington University, author of When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests

"An interesting, at times provocative, treatment of social issues relevant to the diagnostic process and of the many important interfaces between the social sciences and clinical medicine. This will be a useful addition to the armamentarium of resources for those studying the diagnostic process and its failures."

- Pat Croskerry, MD, PhD, FRCP(Edin), Department of Emergency Medicine, Director, Critical Thinking Program, Division of Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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