The biomedical model of illness and healing focuses on purely biological factors, and excludes psychological, environmental, and social influences. This is considered to be the dominant, modern way for health care professionals to diagnose and treat a condition in most Western countries. Most health care professionals do not first ask for a psychological or social history of a patient; instead, they tend to analyze and look for biophysical or genetic malfunctions. The focus is on objective laboratory tests rather than the subjective feelings or history of the patient.
According to this model, good health is the freedom from pain, disease, or defect. It focuses on physical processes that affect health, such as the biochemistry, physiology, and pathology of a condition. It does not account for social or psychological factors that could have a role in the illness. In this model, each illness has one underlying cause, and once that cause is removed, the patient will be healthy again.
The biomedical model is often contrasted with the biopsychosocial model. In 1977, psychiatrist George L. Engel questioned the dominance of the biomedical model, proposing the biopsychosocial model to holistically assess a patient's biological, social, psychological, and behavioral background to determine his or her illness and path of treatment. Although the biomedical model has remained the dominant theory in most places, many fields of medicine including nursing, sociology, and psychology make use of the biopsychosocial model at times. In recent years, some medical professionals have also begun to adopt a biopsychosocial-spiritual model, insisting that spiritual factors must be considered as well.
Proponents of the biopsychosocial model argue that the biomedical model alone does not take into account all of the factors that have an impact on a patient's health. Biological issues, as well as psychological factors such as a patient's mood, intelligence, memory, and perceptions are all considered when making a diagnosis. The biomedical approach may not, for example, take into account the role sociological factors like family, social class, or a patient's environment may have on causing a health condition, and thus offer little insight into how illness may be prevented. A patient who complains of symptoms that have no obvious objective cause might also be dismissed as not being ill, despite the very real affect those symptoms may have on the patient's daily life.
Many scholars in disability studies describe a medical model of disability that is part of the general biomedical approach. In this model, disability is an entirely physical occurrence, and being disabled is a negative that can only be made better if the disability is cured and the person is made "normal." Many disability rights advocates reject this, and promote a social model in which disability is a difference — neither a good nor bad trait. Proponents of the social model see disability as a cultural construct. They point out that a how a person experiences his or her disability can vary based on environmental and societal changes, and that someone who is considered disabled can often be healthy and prosperous without the intervention of a professional or the disability being cured.
Counseling is another field that often uses a more holistic approach to healing. Proponents of this framework note that, in the biomedical model, a patient looks to an expert for a specific diagnosis and treatment. Many counselors often try not to label patients with a specific condition, and instead help them recognize their strengths and build on their positive traits. The relationship is far more collaborative than in the biomedical model where a health care professional instructs a patient to follow medical orders so he or she can be cured.