The end of the disease era

Am J Med. 2004 Feb 1;116(3):179-85. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2003.09.031.


The time has come to abandon disease as the focus of medical care. The changed spectrum of health, the complex interplay of biological and nonbiological factors, the aging population, and the interindividual variability in health priorities render medical care that is centered on the diagnosis and treatment of individual diseases at best out of date and at worst harmful. A primary focus on disease may inadvertently lead to undertreatment, overtreatment, or mistreatment. The numerous strategies that have evolved to address the limitations of the disease model, although laudable, are offered only to a select subset of persons and often further fragment care. Clinical decision making for all patients should be predicated on the attainment of individual goals and the identification and treatment of all modifiable biological and nonbiological factors, rather than solely on the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of individual diseases. Anticipated arguments against a more integrated and individualized approach range from concerns about medicalization of life problems to "this is nothing new" and "resources would be better spent determining the underlying biological mechanisms." The perception that the disease model is "truth" rather than a previously useful model will be a barrier as well. Notwithstanding these barriers, medical care must evolve to meet the health care needs of patients in the 21st century.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care* / organization & administration
  • Disease*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Philosophy, Medical*