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Medicalization and Work — Not Everything is a Real Medical Problem

Medicine itself can get cancer: it’s called medicalization. It proliferates into unneeded treatment, creates worry, and interferes with work — but what is it?

Medicalization is a word describing the elevation of a non-medical phenomenon to a medical problem. What in the past may have just been viewed as a minor issue that many of us experience as a part of everyday life can be transformed into a defined set of medical complaints that gets the erroneous label of being an actual disease, and then unnecessary and extended treatment – some of which can be actually harmful.

What Gets Medicalized?

Obviously, medicine must constantly evolve. There will be issues not perceived as medical that medicine should take on. Alzheimer’s was once neglected, considered to be associated with senility. By understanding it as a medical issue, patients can be better supported, and research is given direction.

The problem is when medicine reaches too far. Social issues and personality traits have also been medicalized in some cases. Things seen by health care providers as “not normal” can, through medicalization, create problems where no problems exist.

Medicalization Creates Dependence

Many groups have incentive to push medicalization. It could be an innocent researcher who is simply mistakenly but genuinely believes that a problem should be seen as medical all the way up to medical establishments seeking to benefit financially.

When someone is medicalized, a patient is told by an otherwise trusted practitioner that, although the cause of the complaints may be unclear, there really is the availability of potentially effective treatment. The individual may now see something that they previously could have just lived with as an actual disease. It’s been given a label that can’t be removed. They have been encouraged to believe that there’s something wrong with them now, when there isn’t, and it requires treatment. Possibly indefinitely.

Medical Problems are Legal Problems

When something’s identified by a health care practitioner as a potential medical problem, all of a sudden there are legal ramifications. Does it count as a disability? Can it excuse someone from work or require unreasonable accommodations? Does it have bearing on a lawsuit?

This can be a dicey area for a human resources professional or an employer to tiptoe through. Generally, you’re not privy to supporting data for a previously injured or ill employee’s claimed medical condition, and you don’t know who’s made the diagnosis and what their biases or vested interests may be.

In these murky situations, medicalization may well have created, wittingly or not, a problem that not only is bad for the employee’s health and quality of life, but it hits your bottom line in terms of risk, accommodation, and lost productivity.

Independent Medical Examinations: A Tool to Combat Medicalization

There’s everything to be gained with seeking outside assurance in these tough circumstances. Independent medical examinations involve unbiased medical professionals taking another look. These experts have specific knowledge relevant to individual cases, rather than being general practitioners, and this expertise can help provide the clarity of confirming the absence of disease that the employee has come to believe is definitely present.

Western Medical Assessments has facilitated over 66,000 independent medical examinations, across the whole medical spectrum. We’re keenly aware of how medicalization can grow like a cancer, and work to provide truly independent assessments. Our Medical Director is always available for a quick chat without any obligation. Give Dr. Roger G. Hodkinson a call at +1 780 433 1191 if you have any unclear medical issues with your employees.

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