Examining Critical Health Policy Issues Within and Beyond the Clinical Encounter

Patient-Provider Relationship and Help-Seeking Behaviors

U.S. health care providers must improve their methods of diagnosing patients. More accurate diagnoses will avoid the under-treatment of illnesses and the frivolous use of health services.

Over the last half century, medical sociologists have reevaluated the interaction of patients and providers within the U.S. health care system. Parsons’ sick role once relegated patients to passive followers of medical authority. Then, in the 1960s, researchers began to treat medical events as the starting point for sociological inquiry. The sociology of medicine was the birth of the patient-centered approach to health care research and policy.

This essay, from a Journal of Health and Social Behavior supplement examines the patient-provider relationship. The authors consider help-seeking behaviors among patients and disparities in access to care. They emphasize the need for accurate measures of illness to ensure fair and even use of the health system.

Key Findings:

  • As patients have gained more information, the paternalistic model of the physician-patient relationship has become obsolete.
  • Primary care facilitates partnerships and establishes trust between patients and providers.
  • Patient-centered medical homes implement a patient-centered model to meet the full spectrum of needs and provide sufficient resources for care.

Today’s patient is an educated, active consumer of health services. Instead of dealing mainly with a physician, the patient interacts with a provider—a treatment team of nurses, social workers, psychologists, pharmacists and independent practitioners. Merely being at risk for disease is cause for a patient to seek treatment. Prevention is now part of medical care and patients manage symptoms over the course of life.