Health Care Policy and Medical Sociology

Chapter
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

Abstract

Health policy concerns are important, but to some extent, understudied within medical sociology, ­particularly at the overall broadest system level. Even in smaller studies that look at specific aspects of health care and health behavior issues, sociologists have not paid much attention in the past few decades to drawing out the implications of the research being done for policy questions within health and health care. Some people have viewed policy as more in the purview of political scientists, and, to some extent, the presence of a journal such as Journal of Health Care Politics, Policy and Research (JHPPPL) and its closer connections with political scientists and historians than with sociologists have reinforced that feeling. In addition, for the last 35 years, studies of the health care delivery system have broadened into many areas of social and administrative sciences and public health. Increasingly, these types of research have become part of an interdisciplinary effort often known as health services research. This chapter argues that sociologists must become concerned with policy issues if we are to remain relevant to some of the most important issues relating to health and health services delivery in the population. To help sociologists apply their research in the future to broader policy concerns and to raise awareness among medical sociologists of the importance of paying attention to policy concerns, this chapter first discusses what we mean by policy and reviews some of the past emphases and attempts to look at the relationship between medical sociology and health policy. Next, the chapter discusses issues about how policy is made in the USA, and presents a quick review of aspects of the policy-making process with a focus on the broader system level, not because sociologists should be in the forefront of this research, but because a better understanding of these issues will help sociologists to broaden the applicability of their more focused research and to better understand its potential to have some impact on policy issues. Then the chapter discusses some of the most important themes in health services research (cost, access, and a bit on quality) and focus more on a review of issues of access, health insurance, and cost. At the end, I return to discussion of some of the kinds of questions that are important in health policy and for which medical sociology can help broaden the way in which policy issues are addressed in the USA and help the research of medical sociologists to be important in the formulation of health policy broadly as well as in smaller, more specific ways. An important theme is that sociologists should not surrender the application of research to policy concerns to other disciplines but should also think about ways their own work can be applied to ongoing issues of policy and public concern.

Keywords

Obesity Insurance Coverage Income Expense Arena 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology Program, School of Family and Social DynamicsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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