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Book and Media Reviews
December 26, 2012

Prescribed: Writing, Filling, Using, and Abusing the Prescription in Modern America

JAMA. 2012;308(24):2628. doi:10.1001/jama.308.24.2628

What does “prescription” mean? If readers think that a prescription is like a restaurant order created as a result of an interaction between a customer and a well-informed server that is discarded after completion of the transaction, this book will revise that view.

The editors state that Prescribed is “a collaborative vision on the part of ten historians of American medicine whose work has converged to illuminate our understanding of the prescription as an object of mutual interest and urgent relevance in understanding changes in the material, political, economic, cultural, and epistemological dimensions of therapeutic authority that took place over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States” (p 3). This lofty goal is achieved by focusing on 4 themes: (1) how the prescription forms a boundary between different professional identities and between the professions and the public; (2) how the prescription is a hub for the maintenance of the authority of physicians as well as a focus for campaigns against the dominating influence of the medical profession; (3) the underlying commercial nature of the prescription process; and (4) the commercial and public health knowledge inherent in prescriptions and actions to unlock it.