Medical sociology is an area of medicine that studies the impact that societal conditions or social factors have on the health of individuals and the healthcare system. Medical sociologists carry out medical research with emphasis on how social factors impact on the health of people as well as on the healthcare system. The aim is to discover techniques that could help in devising better healthcare through the application of sociological theories. Essentially, medical sociology is an interdisciplinary field. It draws from various fields such as social epistemology, science and technology. Medical sociology studies socio-economic, political, economic, cultural and gender/sexuality issues as they impact on health and healthcare delivery systems.
Doctors have for long realized that illness results not only from physical factors but that even emotional and psychological factors could negatively impact on the lives of human beings. In addition, as man naturally lives in communities and in societies with fellow human beings, it is inevitable that social factors will have impact on human beings emotionally and psychologically. Sound health comprises physical, emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing. For instance, some illnesses are described as psychosomatic meaning that they result more from the mind than from any physical causes.
The earliest and the notable documentation that specifically centred on medical sociology was the book written by Charles McIntire in 1894. The book was titled “The Importance of the Study of Medical Sociology.’’ Other important books followed within a few years such as “Essays in Medical Sociology” by Elizabeth Blackwell and ‘Medical Sociology” by James Warbasse in 1902 and 1909 respectively. Medical sociology experienced real growth during the 1960s and 1970s with the establishment of several medical journals dedicated to medical sociology in the United States and in Britain.
The practice of medical sociology embraces a wide range of disciplines as they impact on health and healthcare delivery systems. Medical sociologists are interested in the subjective experiences of sick individuals and the impact of class and/or race distinctions in healthcare delivery systems. The work of medical sociologists correlates or interacts with several other disciplines such as public health, population studies, old age studies and social work. Medical sociologists are interested in how class, race and gender affect access to medical healthcare. They also want to know how sociological changes affect the health of the population as well as on healthcare delivery systems.