Learn how Bhutan's patients navigate a rich and diverse healing landscape, including national biomedical health services, traditional Buddhist medicine and alternative healing practices.


Published By Berghahn Books


This book is a welcome pioneering ethnography based on case studies that demonstrate a clear understanding of the way in which public health services in Bhutan integrate both biomedical and 'traditional' medicine.

Mona Schrempf, Free University, Berlin


This is a timely and much needed study on the relationship between traditional and modern medicine in Bhutan that is grounded in a rich, nuanced ethnographic study.

Richard Whitecross, Edinburgh Napier University




Book Overview

Breaking it down Chapter by Chapter


Bhutan is a landlocked country nestled into the foothills of the Himalaya. It's relative isolation from international influence in turn with progressive governing policy over the last century has ensured its rich cultural, religious and environmental continuity. This opening chapter introduces this fascinating country, looking specifically at some of the major cultural, institutional and economic contexts that inform the patient  experiences discussed later in the book.

Chapter 1 - The Patient Multiple: cures, healths and bodies

Patients in Bhutan often use the multiple types of healthcare practices available to them, including biomedical services, traditional medicine and alternative practices. With this breadth and diversity of knowledge and practice, how do patient's remain cohesive and fulfilled in their search for meaningful healing? The book begins by answering this question with a new theoretical approach to conceiving patients in such a medical plural context.

Chapter 2 - Modernizing traditional medicine: A two option healthcare service

Bhutan's Ministry of Health, from early in its inception, insisted on a two option healthcare service that offers modern biomedical services and a traditional form of Bhuddist medicine. In hospitals around the country, patients have a choice to visit either state sponsored healthcare option. This chapter explores this traditional medicine service and its growing impact on both patients and national health policy and reporting.

Chapter 3 - An ethnography of decision-making

Patients in Bhutan are faced with complex decision-making tasks when seeking healthcare. They may opt between the biomedical, traditional and alternative practices. They may also be influenced by contextual factors such as finances, geography, logistics, family and social pressures, religious beliefs or education - the list goes on. How are patients making decisions about which practice to use and when? And what are some of the repercussions of these critical choices?

Chapter 4 - Alternative Practices and the removal of ja né

The world of Bhutan's alternative healthcare practices is rich and diverse, steeped in history and cultural tradition, and meaningful to patients. These non-institutional practices are availed by countless patients who complement their healing with these often localized and religious practices. This chapter explores these alternative practices, while also introducing some of the tensions between their advocates and critics, using a specific ethnographic description of one such practice.

Chapter 5 - patients and healing materials: relations and dependency

As Bhutan opens more to the international world and improves it's biomedical services, the relational dependency between patients and healing materials grows stronger. Never before have patients in Bhutan had such access to healing materials. This is changing the way patients think about health, services and healthcare access. New horizons of health are emerging. This chapter explores what this looks like for patients in their every-day healthcare seeking experiences.

Conclusion - conclusion: assembling patient multiples and complementary logics of care

With patients understood as calling to multiple practices, healths, and bodies, we can begin to conceive of patients as multiples themselves. Viewing them this way in the Bhutanese context can then aid health administrators to design and implement healthcare services that speak to this multiplicity and complement the patient experience. The book concludes by offering some actionable ideas about how to better meet patients in their meaningful experiences of healthcare seeking.

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Published by Berghahn Books

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