Background: The biopsychosocial model has been a cornerstone for the training of family physicians; however, little is known about the use of this model in community practice. This study, conducted in an urban Native American health center, examined the application of the biopsychosocial model by an experienced family physician (Dr M).
Methods: Interactions between Dr M and 9 Native Americans with type 2 diabetes were audio-recorded following preliminary interviews. Interpretations of the interactions were elicited from Dr M through interpersonal process recall and interpretive dialogue sessions. The author analyzed this data using techniques from interpretive anthropology and narrative discourse analysis.
Results: In a preliminary interview, Dr M described a sophisticated biopsychosocial approach to practice. However, she viewed her actual interactions with these patients as imbued with misunderstanding, mistrust, and disconnection. This occurred in spite of her experience and commitment to providing culturally sensitive primary care.
Conclusions: Biopsychosocial models of disease may conflict with patient-centered approaches to communication. To overcome difficulties in her practice environment, Dr M adopted a strategy that combined an instrumental biopsychosocial approach with a utilitarian mode of knowing and interacting with patients. The misunderstandings, mistrust, and constrained interactions point to deeper problems with the way knowledge is formed in clinical practice. We need further understanding of the interrelationships between physicians' clinical environments, knowledge of patients, and theories of disease. These elements are interwoven in the physicians' patient-specific narratives that influence their interactions in primary care settings.