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Social Issues in Health Care & Disease Prevention

Instructor: Jennifer Tauziac

Jennifer has a master's degree and has taught bacclaureate level nursing.

This lesson will discuss different health-related social issues, including the impact of religious beliefs on health care decisions, childhood vaccinations, organ donation, and end of life care.

Social Issues

Healthcare is full of social issues for both the healthcare provider and for the client. Social issues in this lesson will be defined as a health issue that each patient will have to evaluate based on his or her values, beliefs, and unique situation. Social issues are often headlines in the newspaper and the top story of the news hour. They can be polarizing topics bringing out strong feelings and opinions. We will explore a few of these issues: religious beliefs, child vaccinations, organ donation, and end of life care.

Religious Beliefs

Strongly held religious beliefs play a large role in healthcare decisions. For some people, religious beliefs will dictate which treatments will be considered and which treatments will not be considered. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses will not take blood from another person, or in some cases even their own stored blood. This can raise some concerns if the person has a traumatic accident or has a major operation that would typically require a blood transfusion. Healthcare providers need to respect the religious beliefs of the patient even if it might be difficult.

Childhood Vaccinations

The current standard of care is for all children to have certain vaccinations administered at certain ages throughout childhood. The purpose of a vaccine is to prevent a life-threatening or life-limiting disease. Some vaccines have dead infectious organisms in them. Others have weakened organisms. The body recognizes the dead or weakened organisms as something foreign and attacks it. Then the next time the body sees that organism, it will attack it quicker and stronger, preventing the disease from occurring. There is some fear that some vaccines may have side-effects, like autism. Autism is a term for a group of diagnoses in which the person has impaired social interaction and communication. This is a debated topic, and one we will only mention here. Vaccines do, however, prevent terrible diseases such as Polio, Measles, Rubella, and some types of hepatitis. These diseases have devastating effects on children. Parents need to carefully consider the decision not to vaccinate.

A Tajik child receives the polio vaccine.
A Tajik child receives the polio vaccine.

Another consideration for vaccines is the phenomenon of herd immunity. Herd immunity means that if enough people are vaccinated, then the disease cannot reproduce and in effect, people who are not vaccinated have some added protection. Not everyone needs to have a vaccine for it to work, but the majority of people do. One concern from healthcare professionals about the fear of vaccines is that if enough parents refuse to vaccinate their children, the diseases that modern medicine is capable of eradicating will come back stronger. This is a societal concern.

End of Life Care

In the United States, death is typically an avoided topic. Many people do not discuss with their loved ones what they expect death to be like or what medical treatment they do or do not want in such a situation. Unfortunately, this taboo topic is very important to discuss. In addition to discussing belongings and burial, healthcare decisions are best talked about before a decision needs to be made. The United States has many great technologies, but individuals need to consider their values, beliefs, and unique situation before agreeing to a full treatment plan.

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