Remaking the American Patient

How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers

By Nancy Tomes

560 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2277-4
    Published: January 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2278-1
    Published: January 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4489-7
    Published: January 2016

Studies in Social Medicine

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Awards & distinctions

Bancroft Prize, Columbia University

A 2016 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In a work that spans the twentieth century, Nancy Tomes questions the popular--and largely unexamined--idea that in order to get good health care, people must learn to shop for it. Remaking the American Patient explores the consequences of the consumer economy and American medicine having come of age at exactly the same time. Tracing the robust development of advertising, marketing, and public relations within the medical profession and the vast realm we now think of as "health care," Tomes considers what it means to be a "good" patient. As she shows, this history of the coevolution of medicine and consumer culture tells us much about our current predicament over health care in the United States. Understanding where the shopping model came from, why it was so long resisted in medicine, and why it finally triumphed in the late twentieth century helps explain why, despite striking changes that seem to empower patients, so many Americans remain unhappy and confused about their status as patients today.

About the Author

Nancy Tomes is professor of history at Stony Brook University and author of The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life.
For more information about Nancy Tomes, visit the Author Page.


“A fluent and immensely readable chronology, minutely referenced, instructive and ruefully entertaining. . . . [The] last chapter is a particular tour de force, a virtuoso summary of our present circumstances as we find ourselves both far better off, healthwise, than we have ever been and yet somehow right back where we began”—New York Times

"This fascinating book . . . will intrigue health care professionals and policymakers as well as interested lay readers."—Library Journal, starred review

“A sweeping book that is thoughtfully researched and meticulously documented . . . [and] disproves several reigning myths about the current culture of medicine in the United States.”—Health Affairs

“Casts the history of American medicine in a new light and helps explains the roots of contemporary patients’ and physicians’ predicaments.”—American Historical Review

“Tomes successfully derives valuable insights into current concerns from her historical analysis of the fading distinction between medical professionalism and commerce.”—CHOICE

“An even-handed account, noting that patients have long maintained unrealistic expectations of medicine, fueled in turn by advertising puffery.”—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

Multimedia & Links

Listen: Tomes talks to Stephen Colbrook in this interview for the New Books Network. (04/25/2019, running time 49:36)

Read: Tomes' article "The Patient as Watch Dog" at the AMA's Virtual Mentor website. (November 2013)