Journal: Medical humanities
Medical confidentiality has come under attack in the public sphere. In recent disasters both journalists and politicians have questioned medical confidentiality and claimed that in specific contexts physicians should be compelled to communicate data on their patients' health. The murders of innocent individuals by a suicidal pilot and a Swiss convicted criminal have generated polemical debates on the topic. In this article, historical data on medical confidentiality is used to show that medical practices of secrecy were regularly attacked in the past, and that the nature of medical confidentiality evolved through time depending on physicians' values and judgements. Our demonstration is based on three moments in history. First, at the end of the 16th century, lay authorities put pressure on physicians to disclose the names of patients suffering from syphilis. Second, in the 18th century, physicians faced constant demands for information about patients' health from relatives and friends. Third, employers and insurance companies in the 20th century requested medical data on sick employees. In these three different situations, history reveals that the concept of medical confidentiality was plastic, modelled in the first instance to defend well-to-do patients, in the second instance it was adapted to accommodate the physician’s social role and, finally, to defend universal values and public health. Medical secrecy was, and is today, a medical and societal norm that is shaped collectively. Any change in its definition and enforcement was and should be the result of negotiations with all social actors concerned.
Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect. Labour on the self in order to achieve characteristics said to increase employability is now widely promoted. This work and the discourse on it are central to the experience of many claimants and contribute to the view that unemployment is evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit. The use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state-and state-contracted-surveillance to psychological characteristics. This paper describes the coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interventions and considers the implications of psycho-policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations who are its primary targets. We draw on personal testimonies of people experiencing workfare, policy analysis and social media records of campaigns opposed to workfare in order to explore the extent of psycho-compulsion in workfare. This is an area that has received little attention in the academic literature but that raises issues of ethics and professional accountability and challenges the field of medical humanities to reflect more critically on its relationship to psychology.
In the wake of the Corrupted Blood incident, which afflicted the massively multiplayer online computer role-playing game World of Warcraft in 2005, it has been suggested that both, the incident itself and massively multiplayer online computer role-playing games in general, can be utilised to inform and assist real-world epidemic and public health research. In this paper, I engage critically with these claims.
In late 19th century Paris, people with epilepsy were treated alongside those with hysteria in the now famous Salpêtrière Hospital, where both conditions were deemed to have a neurological basis. When Jean Martin Charcot became chief physician at the Salpêtrière Hospital in 1862, he described himself ‘in possession of a kind of museum of living pathology whose holdings were virtually inexhaustible’. He opened the doors of his ‘living museum’ and exhibited his prize specimens to all of Paris. By putting his patients on display, Charcot introduced a vogue for pathology that permeated well beyond the world of medical enquiry and into the public psyche and vernacular. Not only did Charcot’s demonstrations provide the inspiration for high culture in the form of operas, plays and novels, they also provided the inspiration for the ‘gommeuses epileptiques’ (epileptic singers), who entertained the masses at the café concerts. This paper explores the foundations of our current medical approaches to mental illness and epilepsy, with a particular focus on the boundaries that emerged between hysteria and epilepsy in 19th century Paris. These clinical boundaries were both shaped by and reflected in the popular entertainments in the city.
F Scott Fitzgerald spent the 1930s writing about illness themes while he struggled with tuberculosis, insomnia, alcoholism, heart disease and the mental illness of his wife Zelda. During this decade, Fitzgerald published six stories that prominently feature hospitals and healthcare professionals. These stories, the ‘doctor-nurse stories’, along with nine additional published stories that touch upon medical themes have not previously been investigated as a thematic grouping. This paper explores the 1930s stories in the context of Fitzgerald’s life and career in order to highlight his significant yet previously undervalued contribution to the canon of illness literature and his work’s relevance to the field of literature and medicine.
Much discussion about mental health has revolved around treatment models. As interdisciplinary scholarship has shown, mental health knowledge, far from being a neutral product detached from the society that generated it, was shaped by politics, economics and culture. By drawing on case studies of yoga, religion and fitness, this article will examine the ways in which mental health practices-sometimes scientific, sometimes spiritual-have been conceived, debated and applied by researchers and the public. More specifically, it will interrogate the relationship between yoga, psychedelics, South Asian and Eastern religion (as understood and practiced in the USA) and mental health.
This paper reports on a qualitative evaluation of a Norfolk-based network of community singing workshops aimed at people with mental health conditions and the general public. The aims of the study were (a) to evaluate the effectiveness of the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project and (b) to identify the key features which made the project distinctive. The study draws on 20 interviews with participants, two focus groups with organisers and workshop leaders, and participative observation over a 6-month period. Interviewees all reported improvement in or maintenance of their mental health and well-being as a direct result of engagement in the singing workshops. For most it was a key component, and for some the only and sufficient component in their recovery and ongoing psychological stability. SYHO was regarded as different from choirs and from most other social groups and also different from therapy groups, music or otherwise. The combination of singing with an inclusive social aspect was regarded as essential in effecting recovery. The lack of pressure to discuss their condition and the absence of explicit therapy was also mentioned by most participants as an important and welcome element in why SYHO worked for them. The combination of singing and social engagement produced an ongoing feeling of belonging and well-being. Attendance provided them with structure, support and contact that improved functioning and mood. We conclude that the SYHO model offers a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community.
Clinical language applied to early pregnancy loss changed in late twentieth century Britain when doctors consciously began using the term ‘miscarriage’ instead of ‘abortion’ to refer to this subject. Medical professionals at the time and since have claimed this change as an intuitive empathic response to women’s experiences. However, a reading of medical journals and textbooks from the era reveals how the change in clinical language reflected legal, technological, professional and social developments. The shift in language is better understood in the context of these historical developments, rather than as the consequence of more empathic medical care for women who experience miscarriage.
This article examines the fortunes of one particular surgical innovation in the treatment of gallstones in the late 20th century; the percutaneous cholecystolithotomy (PCCL). This was an experimental procedure which was trialled and developed in the early days of minimally invasive surgery and one which fairly rapidly fell out of favour. Using diverse research methods from textual analysis to oral history to re-enactment, the authors explore the rise and fall of the PCCL demonstrating that such apparent failures are as crucial a part of innovation histories as the triumphs and have much light to shed on the development of surgery more generally.
Healthcare systems redesign and service improvement approaches are adopting participatory tools, techniques and mindsets. Participatory methods increasingly used in healthcare improvement coalesce around the concept of coproduction, and related practices of cocreation, codesign and coinnovation. These participatory methods have become the new Zeitgeist-the spirit of our times in quality improvement. The rationale for this new spirit of participation relates to voice and engagement (those with lived experience should be engaged in processes of development, redesign and improvements), empowerment (engagement in codesign and coproduction has positive individual and societal benefits) and advancement (quality of life and other health outcomes and experiences of services for everyone involved should improve as a result). This paper introduces Mental Health Experience Co-design (MH ECO), a peer designed and led adapted form of Experience-based Co-design (EBCD) developed in Australia. MH ECO is said to facilitate empowerment, foster trust, develop autonomy, self-determination and choice for people living with mental illnesses and their carers, including staff at mental health services. Little information exists about the underlying mechanisms of change; the entities, processes and structures that underpin MH ECO and similar EBCD studies. To address this, we identified eight possible mechanisms from an assessment of the activities and outcomes of MH ECO and a review of existing published evaluations. The eight mechanisms, recognition, dialogue, cooperation, accountability, mobilisation, enactment, creativity and attainment, are discussed within an ‘explanatory theoretical model of change’ that details these and ideal relational transitions that might be observed or not with MH ECO or other EBCD studies. We critically appraise the sociocultural and political movement in coproduction and draw on interdisciplinary theories from the humanities-narrative theory, dialogical ethics, cooperative and empowerment theory. The model advances theoretical thinking in coproduction beyond motivations and towards identifying underlying processes and entities that might impact on process and outcome.