The new subjective medicine: taking the patient's point of view on health care and health

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Apr;56(7):1595-604. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00159-4.


Calls to respect patient autonomy and produce patient-centered outcomes have recently brought the patient's point of view back into the center of clinical medicine. Bioethics has argued that patient values must be respected in health care decisions. But it has generally not questioned medicine's goals, including its definition of health. For bioethics, health has remained an objective biological fact. However, pressures to improve the cost-effectiveness of medical care have increased interest in the subjective health and quality of life of patients. Perceived health, health-related quality of life, and health-state utilities bring health assessment progressively closer to the patient's perspective. Now even death's harm to patients is qualified by the value patients place on their health state. Medicine's epidemiological transition from acute to chronic disease is thus prompting an epistemological transition from primarily objective to primarily subjective evidence of health and health care effectiveness. Now some of the most important patient outcomes, like patient choices before them, are valid because they are subjective. Pathophysiology is appropriately becoming a means to produce health as it is defined from the patient's point of view. The physicians' job description will be changed to focus on patients' lives rather than patients' bodies. Definitive evaluations of medical effectiveness will occur within patients' lives rather than within doctors' hospitals. This further incorporation of patient subjectivity should carry us well beyond informed consent and the other protections for patient autonomy bequeathed to us by bioethics.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Goals
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / ethics*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Patient Participation*
  • Patient Rights / ethics
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Patient-Centered Care / ethics*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Self-Assessment
  • Sickness Impact Profile
  • Sociology, Medical