It's Never Too Late to Ask: Is This The Way to Health?
We should be seeing—and certainly feeling—more signs of better health by now, given the hefty price tag for this journey. We're paying First Class rates but finding out we’ve been bumped.
The data is clear on the reason for discontent. The Commonwealth Fund has tracked the quality of U.S. health care since 2006 and shows it to be the most expensive system in the world even though it consistently under-performs health care systems in most other countries. What we assumed and trusted would make us healthy simply isn’t performing.
But on the heels of discontent comes the longing for a change.
One of the most telling ways we see a change in people’s health practices is in their chart-topping out-of-pocket spending for alternatives. What was once considered a fringe approach to health is obviously more than a fad. Alternatives have gone mainstream.
In some ways this popular shift away from the conventional disease management model of care echoes a larger movement in society away from institution to personal experience.
In a world where social interaction is anywhere, anytime, people are taking the opportunity to share personal experiences, ask personal questions, tap into the knowledge of experts, collaborate with friends, explore alternatives, think in broader, deeper ways about life, and sometimes just by using a device at our fingertips. Our thought can open up to ideas about health and methods of treatment that may be quite new to us.
This unrestricted way in which people connect and learn has become normal and natural and is already having an impact on how we approach health care.
Society is finding out at breathtaking speed that health is not just what’s going on physically but what’s happening mentally. We’re hearing a lot more about how what we believe can make an enormous difference in what we experience. We’re hearing more about the role of spirituality in health, making people better physically as well as emotionally. Some have discovered their decisive power to change their behavior and take better care of themselves.
Mind, not the body, is what’s behind this course-correction in health care.
What we’re seeing is that some fundamental assumptions about health are being challenged and changed. The belief that the body operates independent of the mind, for example, is looking like the relic of a bygone era. Also, patients are crying out for something more than a biomedical response to their suffering. They want and need compassion and have responded favorably when they’ve felt it. Love and forgiveness are valued as powerful medicine.
Adding all this up, what might the future of health care look like? I don’t imagine that doctors or nurses or hospitals or medicine will go away, but if current trends are any indication we could see a new vision of health transforming their roles.
Picture doctors who increasingly realize how their thought about the patient impacts the outcome of the case, and the doctor doing whatever he or she can to remove, rather than add to, any fear. Picture nurses who know the healthy effect of providing cheerful, patient and reassuring assistance. Picture care facilities where the emphasis is on tender, consistent care, and the medicine with the best side effects turns out to be chemical-free: a strong dose of compassion and understanding.
It's tempting to dismiss that as something of a fantasy given the status of the current health care model. But look around at the deeper kinds of questions about health that people are asking, and the unconventional ways in which many of them are practicing and experiencing health care every day, and you'll see unmistakable signs of a changing landscape.
We have a ways to go to our final destination. But Dr. Arthur Barsky, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says, we have the right attitude. He told me: "Our pursuit of perfect health, freedom from all symptoms and discomfort, and extreme longevity, is very much alive and well."
That’s the ideal. That's where we want to be. And a closer look at the surrounding landscape suggests that we’re seeing new possibilities for getting there.