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Sociology-American Health Care and Sociological Concepts/Perspectives

Updated on October 8, 2010

American Health Care, a Social Institution

American Health Care, a Social Institution

Melissa Sheffield

Walden University

October 3, 2010


Instructor Vigdor

American Health Care, a Social Institution

The American Health Care Industry is a very large social institution. The health care system is designed to adapt to the communities served (Schaefer, 2009), it is a formal organization structured for efficiency and a specific purpose. The three major sociological orientations are functionalist, conflict, and interactionist; we will discuss each perspective as it pertains to the health care industry. Each perspective has its strengths and weaknesses, from high function to discrimination through social class, to stability and lack of accessibility.

The functionalist perspective attempts to analyze the industry’s major tasks and how it maintains its survival. According to Schaefer (2009) the health care industry effectively replaces personnel, trains new recruits, provides an important service to its members and its community, preserves order through strict regulations and operating procedures, and maintains its purpose through motivation for social change and charitable characteristics. The functional perspective emphasizes the contribution the health care industry makes to our society’s overall stability. Health care provides basic protections against the spread of contagious diseases, maintains awareness of healthy practices, and contributes to the wellness of the community.

Conflict within the health care system can present as greed, economic influence, unavailability to specific groups, or prejudice privilege provided to insured patients. Medical care has become increasingly bureaucratic; many clinics and doctors’ offices are overwhelmed with paperwork and regulations which can prevent them effectively helping the ailing masses. Health insurance is used to supplement the outrageous cost of medical care and is out of reach to many United States residents. New data indicates 50.7 million Americans are without private health care insurance and the outlook is grim due to the erosion of the economy and employer-based insurance plans (Greenstein, 2010). Federal programs attempt to provide basic or restricted coverage to the one out of every six Americans stretching the systems already limited resources. These constraints leave the uninsured with few choices, less comprehensive care, long wait times, and increased frustration within poor communities.

The interactionalist would be interested in the effects of limited health care on a micro level. The specific communities most affected by health care coverage are the elderly, children, and people living below the poverty line. According to Schaefer (2009), interactionist theorist would emphasize that our social behavior is influenced by the social roles we accept. By accepting that health care is difficult to obtain or the system unfairly represents wealthier patrons, the lower classes of people resort to alternate means including local clinics, alternative medicine, internet applications such as WebMD and other community resources. As the community of the uninsured grows as does the demand for centralized and government provided programs. The growing number of people requiring assistance will influence future legislation and can change public opinion on the necessity of adequate care for everyone, eventually lowering fatality rates and increasing public awareness on the importance of healthy families.

The strength and weakness of each perspective lies in its definition of the institution. The functionalist view shows us the power and influence the health care industry has on society, its ability to sustain itself and grow. The functionalist view does not specify how society does or does not benefit from the growing institution. The conflict perspective shows us the potential downfall of the industry, the alienation and lack of care for low-income or unemployed people. The perspective does not analyze the benefits organized health care provides but it can suggest areas needing reform. Interactionalist show the impact of available health care on specific communities but it does not consider the wider implications of deficiency.

Our family can most closely identify with the conflict perspective because of the high unemployment rate in our area, the central valley of California. Although we do have medical insurance our rates have steadily increased over the last few years and our overall coverage has decreased. It is blatantly clear how difficult it would be to obtain adequate coverage if our employers were not providing it to us. We have friends who do not go the Dr. unless absolutely necessary and we support a generalized plan that would at least take care of children who can potentially spread viruses and diseases without prejudice to the surrounding population through their public access to schools.


Greenstein, R. (2010). CBPP Statement: Sept. 16, 2010, Poverty and Health Insurance Data. Center on Budget & Policy Priorities. Retrieved October 3, 2010 from

Schaefer, R. T. (2009). Sociology: A brief introduction (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Teachers Comments 30/30A

You showed a strong understanding of the course concepts. You demonstrated that you know what social institutions are and used an interesting one as the basis of your paper. You also were able to show that you understand the major perspectives in Sociology. You put the two of these together and came away with a thoughtful analysis which showed and even higher level of understanding. You committed to a perspective that you most closely align with and stated why.


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