Blog | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

QD: News Every Day--AAMC says doctors need social sciences in med school

Understanding how lifestyle, behavior, and economic status affect health, and applying this knowledge to medical practice is vital for future physicians, according to a new report from the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

Behaviors and the social determinants of health such as smoking, diet, exercise, and socioeconomic status account for more than 50% of premature disease and death in the nation, according to the report.

Accordingly, the report states, "Physicians treating patients across the spectrum of organ system and age are required to master the behavioral interventions proven to improve outcomes. These interventions include screening procedures, interviewing techniques, diagnostic assessments, treatment recommendations, counseling techniques, complementary and alternative modalities, and specialist referrals. Behavioral training and skills are necessary whenever physicians discuss diagnostic findings, explain risk, and engage patients in shared decision-making."

The idea is that psychology courses could help doctors communicate better, and a poli-sci class could give insight into a patient's cultural background.

"Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians" is designed to help medical educators understand what behavioral and social sciences to include in their curricula, and provides a framework to help prepare future physicians to address complex social challenges and unhealthy behaviors that can lead to premature death, chronic disease, and health care disparities.

How patient's lifestyle affect their health has been the topic of many recent headlines. Television personality Paula Deen's high-fat recipes have led some to question its potential influence on her revelation that she's had diabetes for three years. (There's much more to diabetes than poor eating habits, experts explain.) And binge drinking is more common than previously believed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.

"In addition to medical knowledge, a well-rounded physician must understand the cultural, familial, economic, and demographic factors that affect health and disease," said AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, in a press release. "To deliver quality patient-centered care, today's doctors need to be equipped with effective methods to help people change behavior to optimize health."

Applying principles from psychology, epidemiology, or political science can help a physician caring for a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient, AAMC offered as an example. By taking into consideration a patient's available support system, access to health care, and how breast cancer is distributed across populations, a physician is in a better position to develop an effective health strategy for treating the disease.