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Biopsychosocial medicine research trends: connecting clinical medicine, psychology, and public health

Growth of biopsychosocial medicine

The journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine was launched in January 2007, nearly 13 years ago. This is a peer-reviewed online journal that encompasses all aspects of the interrelationships between the biological, psychological, social, and behavioral elements of health and disease [1]. The journal emphasizes a biopsychosocial approach to illness and health, covering the behavioral sciences, social sciences, neuroscience, stress physiology and epidemiology, psychoneuroendocrinology/immunology, gut-brain axis, psycho-cardiology and psycho-oncology, all of which are associated with mind–body interactions and psycho social interventions including psychosomatic/behavioral therapeutic approach..

As of October 2020, 331 articles have been published, comprising 222 original research reports (67.1%), 63 reviews (19.0%), 25 case reports (7.6%), 14 editorials (4.2%), and seven other articles (2.1%). When all published articles were assigned to three main areas of study, biological/psychosomatic medicine, psychology, and public health, 142 (42.9%) articles were categorized in the biological/psychosomatic domain, 120 (36.3%) in the psychological area, 51 (15.4%) in public health, and 18 (5.4%) as “others”. The main topics in each area are shown in Table 1. A variety of psychosomatic illnesses have been investigated, including eating disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, coronary heart diseases, and allergic diseases. Articles related to women’s and children’s health and series in several clinical fields like pediatrics, gynecology, and dentistry were initiated. Cognitive behavioral therapies, relaxation training, and special treatments as Yoga or Kampo medicine have often been employed with such psychosomatic illnesses, and were carefully evaluated. Social factors such as work stress and over-adaptation have been shown to be associated with mind/body health.

Table 1 Examples of research topics published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine from January 2007 to October 2020

Recent interest in biopsychosocial medicine

Interest in biopsychosocial medicine has grown recently. For example, according to tabulations by Springer Nature, articles in this journal were accessed 197,797 times during 2019. This translates to an average of 16,483 accesses per month, with frequencies ranging from 12,345 in January to 21,324 in December 2019. Major visits by geography were as follows; United States (35%), United Kingdom (10%), Japan (9%), India (7%), Australia (6%), Canada (5%), Philippines (3%), Germany (1%), Netherlands (1%), Italy (1%), Ireland (1%), and Indonesia (1%).

The top 10 articles, selected from among those published during 2007–2019 and most frequently accessed by Internet in 2019, are shown in Table 2. It is surprising that the first two original articles, one by Decety et al. (2007) and one by Sugimoto et al. (2009), are still accessed often, although it is now more than 10 years since their publication. When limiting the analyses to the articles published in the past 3 years, i.e., 2017–2019, the most frequently accessed article, authored by Hirayama et al. (2019), was a case series reporting the treatment effects of behavioral activation therapy for depression and anxiety in cancer patients (Table 3). No article published in 2017 and only one published in 2018 were identified among the top 10 in the 2019 access ranking.

Table 2 Top 10 articles published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine in the period from 2007 to 2019 based on the numbers of Internet access during 2019
Table 3 Top 10 articles published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine in the past 3 years (2017 to 2019) that were most frequently accessed through the Internet during 2019

Concerning the number of journal citations, Web of Science, the top 20 articles were shown in Table 4 [2]. Half of them were review articles, and the remaining half were original research ones. The most recent articles listed in the table were one by Kano et al. (2013) and one by Moriguchi et al. (2013), both of which were reviews addressing brain function of alexithymia.

Table 4 Top 20 articles published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine, based on the number of journal citations, Web of Science, in October, 2020 [2]

Future directions of biopsychosocial medicine

Editors and colleagues have regularly carried out thematic series addressing psychosomatic medicine to facilitate researchers’ submission of reports focusing on a variety of biopsychosocial topics (Table 5). Interestingly, behavioral medicine was featured twice in the journal in 2016. Ours is an interdisciplinary field combining medicine, psychology, and social science, and the practice of psychosomatic medicine is closely related to that of behavioral medicine, particularly in terms of the biopsychosocial aspects of health.

Table 5 Examples of thematic series published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine

More than 40 years have passed since Engel developed a biopsychosocial model that went beyond traditional biochemical models of clinical medicine [3], and more than 1500 articles have been published, according to the PubMed search using a text word of “biopsychosocial-model”. The Japanese Society of Psychosomatic Medicine defines psychosomatic illness as any physical condition with organic or functional damage affected by psychosocial factors in its onset or development [4], and the biopsychosocial model is useful in improving clinical outcomes of such psychosomatic illnesses and a variety of chronic diseases, through creating awareness on the interactions among biological, psychological, sociocultural, and spiritual factors, and to enhance self-management of illness conditions through multidisciplinary approach of patient care and other medical settings [5]. Although we know both favorable and critical opinions in the pre-existing literature, we still believe that the biopsychosocial model continues to offer valuable insights into clinical practice, medical education, and psychosomatic research and that it should be further developed to treat and prevent stress-related conditions.

According to the recent report [6], mind-body approach, including Yoga, meditation, or other Eastern medicine techniques, can be a helpful adjunct in managing stress-related noncommunicable diseases by fostering resilience through self-care. BioPsychoSocial Medicine is the unique journal locating in Asia but disseminating the importance of psychosomatic medicine all over the world. Such successive activities will help mutual understanding and fusion of East and West in terms of mind-body connections of health. The editors welcome high-quality research clarifying mind/body relationship as they affect and are affected by health behaviors and social life in humans.

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Obtained data and materials were based on information about the journal and are available only to editorial board members.

References

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Correspondence to Mutsuhiro Nakao.

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Nakao, M., Komaki, G., Yoshiuchi, K. et al. Biopsychosocial medicine research trends: connecting clinical medicine, psychology, and public health. BioPsychoSocial Med 14, 30 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13030-020-00204-9

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