In the News: Telemedicine in the United States

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The intersections between technology, medicine, and health are a frequent site of discussion at Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry. In our last issue of 2015, for instance, Yael Hashiloni-Dolev[1] examined the role of new medical technologies that enable posthumous reproduction, while Petersen and Traulsen[2] shed light on the nuanced social uses of psychoactive medications amongst university students. These articles underscore the centrality of technology in everyday human health behaviors, and on the cultural meaning of these new tools in local medical landscapes.

Another technological innovation altering the social world of medicine—one making headlines in recent months—is telemedicine. In the Journal of the American Medical Association[3] (JAMA), telemedicine has been described as “the use of telecommunications technologies to provide medical information and services,” often a shorthand “for remote electronic clinical consultation” via phones and internet applications.

In the December 2015 AARP Bulletin, author Charlotte Huff[4] remarked that over 1 million patients will use telemedicine services this year, and remote access to physicians by phone, video chat, and email is more and more commonly covered by American employers’ health insurance packages. A Reuters article[5] adds that in Texas, a telemedicine company is working to block a state law that would require physicians to see a patient in-person before consulting with them via phone, email, or other means. And in the New York Times[6], a physician observed that telemedicine may prove a useful tool for children and adolescents: many of whom have grown up in a digital culture of “oversharing” and would not balk at texting their physicians images of strange rashes or lesions on their bodies. As this new tool of health care delivery is negotiated in different societal arenas, so too are its implications increasingly worthy of anthropological attention.

Telemedicine is altering the social fabric of medicine in a number of significant ways. Here, we will outline two potential outcomes of telemedicine on medical exchanges facilitated by technology. First, telemedicine extends the professional reach of biomedical clinicians. Areas where biomedical care is inaccessible, or where only indigenous medical systems exist, may now fall under the electronic eye of a faraway practitioner. This has extraordinary consequences for the ubiquity of biomedicine and the consolidation of biomedical power. Second, and rather conversely, telemedicine empowers the patient in the clinical encounter. Because the physician or clinician is not physically present to examine the patient’s body, the patient themself is the one who touches a swollen throat, or flexes a stiff joint, and relays their response through phone or web camera. In sum, the patient gains greater control over bodily (and verbal) narratives that, unlike an in-person exam, the clinician does not have total access to.

The rise of telemedicine speaks to medical anthropologists, certainly, but it also presents a fascinating case more broadly for science and technology theorists and scholars in health communication. As the topic of telemedicine continues to capture the interest of medicine and the media, so too will it fall under the consideration of researchers piecing together the networks that bring patients and their caregivers together in novel ways.

[1] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-015-9447-6

[2] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-015-9457-4

[3] http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=386892

[4] http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2015/telemedicine-health-symptoms-diagnosis.html#slide1

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/health-case-to-watch-teladoc-idUSL1N14H0CT20151228

[6] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/18/using-phones-to-connect-children-to-health-care/?ref=health

 

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AAA 2015 Sessions: Medical and Patient Bodies

This entry is our last in a three-part blog series on the upcoming American Anthropological Association (2015) meeting, to be held in Denver, CO from November 18th-22nd. Here we feature paper sessions on contemporary themes in medical anthropology and social medicine. This year, we showcased sessions on the anthropology of mental health care (read here) and on cultural approaches to food sovereignty and economies, featured last week. In this installment, we highlight three sessions on the theme of the medical and patient body. All sessions are listed chronologically by date and time.

Image via AAA Website

Image via AAA Website

The Politics of Health and Ritual Practices: Ethnographic Perspectives

Wednesday, November 18th from 2:00pm-3:45pm (details here.)

In this session, topics will include: health and religion in Putin’s Russia; rhetoric and biopolitics in local medicines of North India; hypochondria, somatic experience, and psychiatry in Soviet-era Bulgaria; and the implications of mortuary rituals in neoliberal Romania. These papers will particularly interest scholars who study the relationship between body and state, as well as those who examine the intersection of religion, health, and healing practice.

The Biosociocultural Trajectory of Stigma

Sunday, November 22nd from 10:15am-12:00pm (details here.)

Papers in the session will address stigma in the following contexts: methadone treatment in a Moldovan prison; HIV+ identities in intergenerational perspective; changes in HIV/AIDS stigma in Western Kenya; stigma and HIV/AIDS as chronic versus curable; obesity and depression in Puerto Rico; and de-stigmatization in massive weight loss. Through these presentations, the session will posit the medical body at the center of social discourses on stigma, illness, and treatment across cultures.

Micropolitics of Medical Life

Sunday, November 22nd from 10:15am-12:00pm (details here.)

This session spans topics such as: organ donation and the family in Japan; patient-centered approaches to biomedical readmission; infant health in El Salvador; translation and language in medical encounters; ethnographic research on contaminated water exposure and local treatments for infant diarrhea; dialysis and the family unit; and the connections between cells, culture, and knowledge-making. These papers will underscore the cross-cultural ties between body, biology, illness, culture, and daily life.

AAA 2015 Sessions: Food Sovereignty and Food Economies

Last Fall 2014, we featured a series of blog entries highlighting sessions at the AAA 2014 Annual Meeting on topics of interest to our readers. This year, we feature sessions from this year’s AAA 2015 Annual Meeting, to be held November 18-22 in Denver, Colorado (more information here.) You can also browse another past installment of the blog, where we highlighted sessions on biomedicine and the body at the upcoming Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) meeting, also in Denver, to be held November 11-14 (details here.)

This week, we present three paper sessions on anthropological approaches to food sovereignty and food economies: topics that have been increasingly of interest to medical anthropologists who study related issues such as body image, preventative care, nutrition, and well-being. The sessions are organized chronologically by date.

Image via AAA Website

Image via AAA Website

Food Values in Europe: Sustainable Economies, Power, and Activism

Thursday, November 19th 8:00am-9:45am (details here.)

Topics in this session will include the decommodification of food and organic food supplies; organic food provisioning in Catalonia; food values amongst British-born African Caribbean peoples in the United Kingdom; food waste and recycling in southern Spain; food politics, communities, and the garden in the Czech Republic; sustainability in a Galician dairy farm; and food ideologies in an urban Portuguese garden. The session crosses numerous topics of study including European cultures, sustainability and the environment, cross-cultural food practices, green space and the role of the garden, and global nutrition.

Critical Perspectives on Food Sovereignty, Food Justice, and Food Citizenship

Friday, November 20th 1:45pm-3:30pm (details here.)

This session will include presentations on the following topics: agricultural activism in Cuba; food access amongst migrant farm laborers; food justice at the border of the United States and Mexico; food sovereignty in Mexico in popular narratives; food literacy amongst women in a food-insecure neighborhood; and an analysis of divergent perspectives on food justice. These papers will offer valuable perspectives on the role of food in disparities across economic classes and across national borders.

New Directions in Agriculture and Culture: The Convergences of Food, Labor, and Neoliberalism

Saturday, November 21st 8:00am-9:45am (details here.)

Presenters in this session will address: a case study in sustainable entrepreneurship; food sovereignty and food landscapes in Detroit, Michigan; labor and food in a Wisconsin farm-to-table network; Haitian farmers and socioeconomic change; technoscience, translation, and olive oil; seeds and labor on the shorelines of Turkey; and an ecological study of resistance and labor on a South African plantation. These sessions will appeal to scholars who work on economic anthropology, nutrition, or political ecology.

AAA 2015 Sessions: The Anthropology of Mental Health Care

Beginning last Fall 2014, we began compiling lists of sessions at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association that we thought would be of interest to our readers attending the conference. These sessions included topics such as drug use and abuse, reproductive medicine, and global health. This year, we again feature our series on the upcoming conference, to be held November 18-22 in Denver, Colorado (more information here.) You can also browse last week’s installment of the blog, where we highlighted sessions on biomedicine and the body at the upcoming Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) meeting, also in Denver, to be held November 11-14 (details here.) This week, we present three paper sessions on the anthropology of mental health care. The sessions are organized chronologically by time and date.

Image via AAA Website

Image via AAA Website

Re-Institutionalizing Care: Anthropological Engagements with Mental Health Courts and Alternative Forensic Psychiatry Interventions in North America

Saturday, November 21st 10:15am-12:00pm (details about this session.)

Topics in this session will include racial disparities in a mental health court in Canada; the relationship between criminal justice officials, psychiatric crisis, and mental health; dogma and psychiatry; and mental health care reform. The session lists itself as particularly of note to applied and practicing anthropologists, especially those with an interest in mental health care, policy, and reform.

From the Streets to the Asylum: Medicalizing Vulnerable Children

Saturday, November 21st 10:15am-12:00pm (details about this session.)

This session includes work on the following topics: humanitarian care and child homelessness in Cairo, Egypt; drug use and treatment amongst juvenile prisoners in Brazil; immigrant youth and mental health in France; and notions of American childhood in the context of mental health. Though the session is sponsored by the Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group, its topics overlap with many contemporary issues in medical anthropology and the social study of mental health care.

Making Sense of Mental Health Amidst Rising Rural Social Inequality in North America: Class, Race, and Identity in Treatment-Seeking

Saturday, November 21st, 1:45pm-3:30pm (details about this session.)

Presenters in this session will speak on these issues: mental health and poverty in rural New England; mental health and prescription drug abuse in Appalachia; citizenship and mental health in Oklahoma; care access in remote Alaskan communities; community mental health activism; and inequity and depression in rural Kentucky. These sessions will be of interest to scholars of social justice and medicine, as well as those studying mental health care access and the culture of psychiatry in the United States.

Book Release: Jenkin’s “Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness”

Via UC Press website

Via UC Press website

Out this August 2015 from the University of California Press is Janis H. Jenkin’s Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness. This ethnographic text explores the lives of patients of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds experiencing trauma, depression, and psychosis, taking into account the identity, self, desires, gender, and cultural milieu of the participants. Jenkins’ text pays special attention to the reduction of the severely mentally ill to a subhuman status, and the nature of this social repression.

Jenkins argues for a new, dynamic model of mental illness as a struggle rather than a constellation of discrete symptoms, noting that such a model should consider the ways that culture is implicated in mental illness experience from onset through recovery. The book posits that inclusion of culture into the clinical practice of psychiatry is crucial to the successful treatment of patients, and that anthropologists must not only consider the normative, day-to-day lives of participants but also the “extraordinary” and uncommon conditions regularly faced by those with mental illness.

This book will be of interest to psychological and psychiatric anthropologists, as well as those studying mental health care delivery systems. It will also shed light on medical narratives in mental health, and on generating new theories of human experience and medicalization.

For more information about this book, click on the publisher’s website here: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520287112

News: Home Health Care for the Elderly in the United States

Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, and the medical anthropological community at large, is committed to understanding the changing landscape of aging as both developed and developing countries experience demographic shifts, social change, and economic transformations that have impacted the way older adults receive care and treatment. Our December 1999 special issue addressed the anthropological complexity of family care dynamics, dementia, and global aging, and our journal continues to publish articles on this pressing theme in the field.[1]

In recent news, there has been a flurry of articles that address the variety of new programs across the United States that strive to address this timely and critical issue in the field of medicine and care delivery. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, for example, has initiated a home hospitalization program for elderly patients.[2] The program recognizes the desire of older adult patients to heal in their home environment, and visiting clinicians employed by the program are able to perform basic tests as well as deliver IV medications at the patient’s home in what is called a “mobile acute care” model.

This shift does, of course, benefit the hospital: it opens valuable bed space for other patients and allows staff to focus on the management of more serious cases. But it also has advantages for the patient, including reduced cost, the comfort of healing in the home, reduction in hospital-borne infections and symptoms of delirium in the unfamiliar hospital environment (common amongst older patients), and the ability for family members to be available at all times of the day to supplement care rather than being strictly permitted during visitation hours. A similar program for treating acute conditions in the elderly at home was instated in New Mexico, with promising results and improved patient outcomes.

Another piece in The Atlantic, however, outlines the difficulties of receiving extended at-home medical care for older adults with chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s.[3] As children of the elderly generation continue to work longer, and in married families both spouses are employed, there is no one at home to deliver lasting care to older family members who have chronic rather than acute conditions. Visiting home health aides, who are equipped to assist with basic tasks such as helping older adults shower and get in and out of bed, are typically underpaid and do not service outlying suburban or rural areas in the United States where many older individuals now live. Although the majority of elderly individuals prefer to live at home and not enter an assisted care facility, without consistent home care delivery available, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to do so.

Other organizations are generating creative solutions to delivering at-home care assistance for the elderly, particularly those without debilitating health conditions but who nevertheless require other forms of assistance. As NPR reports, many older adults struggle with the physical tasks required to cook healthy meals, such as lifting heavy pots and preparing fresh ingredients.[4] Some rely on microwaveable dinners, and do not get the nutrients they need to support their health. The company “Chefs for Seniors” has met this need in the Madison, Wisconsin area by sending professional chefs to older adults’ homes, where they cook a week’s worth of healthy meals for the resident. To ensure the plan is affordable for seniors, the company charges $15 for groceries and $30 per hour for the chef to prepare the meals: on average, this costs the customer $45 to $75 per week. The meals can also be personalized to the customer’s dietary preferences and needs.

While the United States faces numerous struggles to provide inclusive and accessible elderly care to an expanding older adult population, these smaller changes to the dynamics of caregiving—however flawed, as in the case of limited home health aides—demonstrates a broader recognition of this vital social and medical concern.

For another piece on elderly caregiving, be sure to check out this “From the Archive” blog post on dementia and family caregiving in urban India: https://culturemedicinepsychiatry.com/2014/11/19/from-the-archive-caregiving-and-dementia-in-urban-india/


Sources

[1] http://link.springer.com/journal/11013/23/4/page/1

[2] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/27/admitted-to-your-bedroom-some-hospitals-try-treating-patients-at-home/?smid=tw-share&_r=0

[3] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/who-will-care-for-americas-seniors/391415/

[4] http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/04/27/401749819/drop-in-home-chefs-may-be-an-alternative-to-assisted-living

June 2015 Issue Preview: Guest Editor M. Ariel Cascio, on Global Autism Studies

Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry’s second installment of the year arrives June 2015. This special issue will address anthropological studies of autism throughout the world. To give our readers a preview of the upcoming issue, special issue guest editor M. Ariel Cascio, PhD joined our social media editor for an interview to discuss compiling the issue, what topics the articles will address, and new themes in the study of autism.


Can you tell us a little about the upcoming June 2015 special issue?

The special issue, “Conceptualizing autism around the globe,” shares anthropological (and allied field) research on autism in Brazil, India, Italy, and the United States. We talk about “conceptualizing” autism as a way to counter the idea that autism “is” or “means” one specific thing. Sometimes autism means the diagnosis measured by a certain instrument (such as ADOS), sometimes it means a more broadly defined set of characteristics (such as those in the DSM), sometimes it means an individual identity, and so many more things. The articles in this issue explore how autism is conceptualized at several different levels: in national policy, in treatment settings, and in the home.

What’s been your favorite part of working on the special issue?

I’ve just enjoyed the opportunity to greater familiarize myself with the group of scholars who are pursuing the anthropology of autism, and to work alongside scholars whose work I have long followed.

So how did you become interested in the study of autism?

I’ve been studying autism since 2008. I actually came to anthropology before I came to autism, and when I first began learning about autism, I saw it as rich for anthropological inquiry (isn’t everything!) because of anthropology’s strengths in focusing on lived experience, challenging deficit narratives of so-called “disorders,” and placing medicine and psychiatry in sociocultural context.

What was it like doing fieldwork in Italy? How do Italians see autism differently than other places in the world?

I’ve studied the autism concept more in Italy than in any other place in the world, and I’m very grateful to everyone there from whom I learned – autism professionals, family members of people with autism, and people on the spectrum themselves. I could hazard comparisons with the literature that address perceptions in other parts of the world – and some of these comparisons come through in the special issue – but for now I would like to focus on the strength of the rich description of the Italian context without external comparison. As my article in the special issue shows, autism professionals tended to take a social model of autism, focusing on creating environments that were tailored to the needs of people on the spectrum and structured to help them learn.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in studying autism?

As in many areas of inquiry familiar to readers of CMP, it can be challenging to communicate information about my study to people who study autism in other fields (clinical, psychological, social work, etc.). A lot of research about autism takes a positivist stance, whereas my research takes an interpretivist stance and focuses on autism as a concept whose meaning may vary rather than a diagnosis measured in a particular way. Nonetheless, I love talking about my research interests with a broad audience because in many contexts (especially in the U.S.), so many people have personal or professional interest in autism and we can always have interesting and stimulating conversations.

What’s something you think would surprise non-anthropologists about the anthropology of autism?

I would imagine non-anthropologists would be surprised by the anthropology of autism for the same reasons they might be surprised by anthropology (or medical anthropology) in general. For example, they might be surprised that anthropologists study autism all over the world, particularly if they think of the autism concept as something that represents a universal set of characteristics and experiences that are unaffected by context. The articles in this special issue really show that context matters in all conceptualizations of autism, from Brazil to the United States, from national policy to the family home.

Where do you see the anthropology of autism heading next?

I see the anthropology of autism becoming more inclusive. In her commentary, Pamela Block expresses optimism that the anthropology of autism will increasingly include researchers who identify as autistic themselves, and I agree. In addition to including more researchers with autism, I anticipate that the anthropology of autism will increasingly work to include participants with higher levels of support needs (those whom some people call “people with low-functioning autism”), and delve deeper into their lived experiences as well.


Many thanks to Dr. Cascio for sharing her insights! Look for the special issue on conceptualizing autism in June 2015, and be sure to check back for more previews of the issue, article features, and other blog entries about the new installment here on our website.