Professor criticises medicine's 'blind spot'


If modern scientific medicine is to meet the needs of today's patients, it will have to pay more attention to patients' symptoms and not just to their diseases, a University of Edinburgh Professor says in his inaugural lecture tomorrow (Thursday, 12 May).

Professor Michael Sharpe highlights medicine's 'blind spot' in dealing with symptoms that are not just expressions of disease. These include the many cancer patients who also suffer from depression, the one third of medical outpatients whose symptoms are not to be explained by disease, and patients with controversial syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome or ME. He says this 'blind spot' is a result of relegating aspects of medicine not associated with diagnosing and treating disease to the pre-scientific 'art of medicine', or even to complementary and alternative medicine.

He says: "If we are to treat patients' symptoms more effectively, we need to expand the scope of scientific medicine to investigate a wider range of causes and treatments. That is, we need a science of what was previously thought to be the 'art' of medicine, In order to do this, we must accept the subjective experience of the patient as real and measurable and consider psychological as well as biological aspects of medical treatment as important. Even the performing of medical tests and the giving of a diagnosis are psychological interventions, the effect of which can and should be studied scientifically."

Professor Sharpe adds: " There are a number of examples of current scientific research aimed at treating patients' symptoms by addressing psychological aspects of medical care. These include exploration of the therapeutic impact of investigation and diagnosis in patients whose symptoms are disproportionate to disease; problem solving therapy delivered by cancer nurses to help patients with cancer to overcome their depression, and different forms of activity management programmes to help patients manage chronic fatigue syndrome.

Michael Sharpe has qualifications in psychology, medicine and psychiatry and is pioneering an area of medical research known as symptoms research. This field of research uses scientific methods to understand and treat symptoms.

He explains: "The scientific study of symptoms in their own right provides an essential compliment to existing disease-focussed medical practice. Our aim is to provide an integrated form of health care that will not only use the best science to treat the patient's disease but will also use the best science to treat their symptoms."

The Science of the Art of Medicine, by Professor Michael Sharpe, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh: Thursday, 12 May, 2005 in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, University Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh on at 5.15pm. The lecture is open to the public.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on All rights reserved.