Sunday, March 26, 2017

These Are the Most Prestigious Diseases -- Science of Us

This may sound like an obvious statement, but it's an important one: Doctors aren't computers. You can't input a set of symptoms into a doctor and have him or her output a bulletproof diagnosis and treatment. Doctors, like everyone else, are influenced by the world around them, by a bevy of social and cultural and professional cues that affect their work and productivity. This, of course, has important ramifications for the ways in which medicine is structured and practiced.

One fascinating concept within the study of how doctors conceptualize their work is the concept of "disease prestige." As the name suggests, the basic idea is that there's a general hierarchy in which some diseases are seen as more, well, prestigious than others. One Norwegian sociologist, Dag Album, has for a long time been surveying how doctors in Norway rate different diseases in terms of prestige, and in a new paper in Social Science & Medicine, he and two other researchers show that over the decades, there's been a fairly stable — and rather telling — hierarchy.

The authors used data from three studies of Norwegian physicians, conducted in 1990, 2002, and 2014, in which the physicians were asked to rate 38 categories of diseases on a prestige scale from 1 to 9, based on how they felt health professionals viewed the disease-category in question. In all three surveys, there was stability at the top: Leukemia, brain tumors, and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) were the top three in all three surveys, though the order switched around. At the bottom were fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and cirrhosis of the liver.

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