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FAQ: What is Behavioral Medicine?


Behavioral Medicine focuses on the interaction between behavior and disease (some would say “wellness”). Its concerns range over getting patients to follow medical regimens, the content of such regimens, and related matter. It also addresses self-changers. Its research focusses on how and why people change in their medically significant behaviors, and how such change may be facilitated. Such medically significant behaviors range over the taking of one’s medicine by chronic disease patients, showing up for medical appointments, getting regular check-ups, stress reduction, diet, exercise, smoking, and related matters. In general such behaviors, while often maladaptive or unwanted, do not rise to the level of diagnosable mental and nervous conditions. Some of the focus is on prevention, some on chronic disease management, and some on related nonmedical issues for which the techniques of behavioral medicine are effective. Recent studies have shown that a substantial portion of the nation’s medical costs are caused by behavioral medicine-related issues.

Behavioral medicine is a relatively recent, and rapidly growing area of medicine, which now holds annual conferences, has its own professional society, the Society for Behavioral Medicine, and has a wide body of new research and practice, funded significantly by the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute for Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the British National Health Service. It is beginning to find its way into the public consciousness through such recent books as “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClementi (Morrow, 1994). It is a component of “mainstream” medicine rather than “alternative” medicine. It is not the “Behaviorism” of the history of psychology, with which it has little connection.

Public policy aspects of behavioral medicine are related to the enormous costs of the health care system, particularly in areas where published research has shown that traditional approaches to preventive medicine and to chronic disease treatment used alone have proven unsatisfactory in large numbers of cases. Prior to the research and application of behavioral medicine, such failures have been dismissed as patient noncompliance as if that explained something and it was the patient’s “fault.” Published research to date has shown that physicians are acutely aware of the incomplete training and weakness of technique in traditional medical practice related to this issue.

The research field is interdisciplinary and involves much overlap with psychology, with management, with goal-setting and performance, and with specialized aspects of computers and communications. Among recent breakthroughs in the field are those by Prof. Robert A. Bjork, recent Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council studies on enhancing human performance. Extensive NIH-supported research by Prochaska et al. on addictions including tobacco and alcohol have served to validate their transtheoretical model of behavioral change. Though some of the work involves economics and public policy, that content is treated sporadically, in passing, and in isolation in general discussion groups and economics groups. That this should be so is not surprising, since Behavioral Medicine itself has become a separate focus of practice only in the past ten-odd years.

Teaching targets include physicians, dentists, and nurses, and students in those fields, and practice is significantly, though not exclusively related to organic medical conditions and compliance with medical regimens. Potential self-changers may also be interested participants.

The Behavioral Medicine newsgroup welcomes the following participants:

  • Physicians and medical students
  • Dentists and dental students
  • Psychologists and psychology students
  • Specialists from related fields such as preventive medicine
  • Associated professionals (therapists, teachers, nurses, social workers, etc.)
  • Behavioral medicine researchers and practitioners
  • Management, goal-setting, and human performance researchers and students interested in behavioral medicine or working in collateral areas
  • Computer and communications specialists working on behavioral medicine applications
  • Health economists
  • Health public policy analysts
  • Current or potential patients
  • Relatives or friends of patients

    Topics for discussion include:

  • Research
  • Applications/techniques
  • Integration with current medical practice
  • Self-change
  • Case studies
  • Wider application of research in the field
  • Commercial applications
  • Educational programs
  • Seminars/conferences
  • Any related problems, questions or comments
FAQ: What is Behavioral Medicine?
scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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