Problems of quality and equity in pain management: Exploring the role of biomedical culture

Megan Crowley-Matoka, Somnath Saha, Steven K. Dobscha, Diana J. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Objectives: To explore how social scientific analyses of the culture of biomedicine may contribute to advancing our understanding of ongoing issues of quality and equity in pain management. Design: Drawing upon the rich body of social scientific literature on the culture of biomedicine, we identify key features of biomedical culture with particular salience for pain management. We then examine how these cultural features of biomedicine may shape key phases of the pain management process in ways that have implications not just for quality, but for equity in pain management as well. Setting and Patients: We bring together a range of literatures in developing our analysis, including literatures on the culture of biomedicine, pain management and health care disparities. Measures: We surveyed the relevant literatures to identify and inter-relate key features of biomedical culture, key phases of the pain management process, and key dimensions of identified problems with suboptimal and inequitable treatment of pain. Results: We identified three key features of biomedical culture with critical implications for pain management: 1) mind-body dualism; 2) a focus on disease vs illness; and 3) a bias toward cure vs care. Each of these cultural features play a role in the key phases of pain management, specifically pain-related communication, assessment and treatment decision-making, in ways that may hinder successful treatment of pain in general-and of pain patients from disadvantaged groups in particular. Conclusions: Deepening our understanding of the role of biomedical culture in pain management has implications for education, policy and research as part of ongoing efforts to ameliorate problems in both quality and equity in managing pain. In particular, we suggest that building upon the existing the cultural competence movement in medicine to include fostering a deeper understanding of biomedical culture and its impact on physicians may be useful. From a policy perspective, we identify pain management as an area where the need for a shift to a more biopsychosocial model of health care is particularly pressing, and suggest prioritization of inter-disciplinary, multimodal approaches to pain as one key strategy in realizing this shift. Finally, in terms of research, we identify the need for empirical research to assess aspects of biomedical culture that may influence physician's attitudes and behaviors related to pain management, as well as to explore how these cultural values and their effects may vary across different settings within the practice of medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1312-1324
Number of pages13
JournalPain Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Biomedical Culture
  • Disparities
  • Pain Management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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