The Future of Medicine

What do a detective, meteorologist and doctor have in common? No, its not a joke. I don’t have a clever punch line… But I’ve been thinking, maybe these three career paths should have a little more in common than they do today. I’ll explain…

Today a trip to the doctor’s office can be pretty routine. You have X,  so you take Y to fix it. The doctor writes a prescription and we’re on our way. Whatever X was may have gone away, but in the end we’re none the wiser as to what went wrong in the first place. All we’ve done is played the name it, blame it, tame it game, as Dr. Mark Hyman, functional medicine physician, puts it. The way we look at healthcare today is in terms of treating disease. And as long as we’re taking that approach we’ll never get the upper hand. It’s time for a shift in perspective. And that shift is to a place where the practice of medicine is about creating health instead of fighting disease. So let’s go back to that doctor’s office and try again… but this time what if the doc asks, “what happened to make you need Y in the first place?”

Now the doctor is like the detective. He’s asking questions and doing tests to figure out what’s creating an imbalance. There are seven systems in the body working together to keep us going. Nothing is separate of the whole; everything is connected and constantly changing. Yet when we have a headache we’re referred to one specialist and when we have a tummy ache we’re referred to another. But what if the headache is caused by a problem in the gut? You’d never know. You have to look at the whole thing and understand how the systems work together, what causes imbalance and what creates balance.

With this approach to health the name of a disease is irrelevant. A disease is just a name we’ve made up to classify a specific set of symptoms. It doesn’t really tell us what is wrong with us. The symptoms are clues of something much larger (think Dr. House). To figure that out, doctors have got to start asking the big question: Why? To those who want to stop here and say doctors don’t have time to retrace your medical history, I say: Perhaps they should. And maybe if they did our medical system would be a very different kind of beast then it is today.

But what I’m talking about here goes beyond arguing about the best use of a doctor’s time. This is really about how we are missing the mark all together. The way we treat disease now is you either have it or you don’t. But disease doesn’t just come on overnight. Our bodies are ecosystems and the environment is constantly changing in the same way the environment on earth is constantly changing. Winds shift, storms brew, species evolve. Same goes for the workings of our bodies. So treating them should be about determining what in our bodies created the perfect storm. The doctor turns meteorologist.  Medicine should be about trying to understanding the ecosystem and working with it to create balance. Because when we’re balanced it’s harder for the little things we come in contact with to knock us over. That is the future of medicine: detective, meteorologist and doctor all in one. And we’ll have much healthier and happier people as a result.

life, media

What’s a Wellness Coach?

A classmate passed along this article about wellness coaches and I think it’s a great description of what they do. The article calls wellness coaches a mix of  a life coach, personal trainer and counselor. They’re like the interpreters between the doctor who says, “you need to eat right and exercise 30 minutes a day” and the patient who hears, “yada yada yada.” The coach helps realistically put those words into practice for the individual. That means providing direction, figuring out  how much they’re willing to change, and taking the first baby steps with them.

It’s exciting to see wellness coaches playing such an important and valuable role in healthcare. And what’s more exciting is to see insurance companies covering sessions with a wellness coach for people with certain chronic conditions.

IIN, where I’m going to school, is leading the way in this new approach to healthcare, or “wellcare.”

Read the full article.

food politics

The Food-Healthcare Connection

Here’s something to think about.

In 1960 the average household spent 17.5 percent of their income on food, while 5.2 percent of their income went to healthcare.

Fast forward nearly 50 years to 2008…

Last year the average household spent 9.9 percent of their income on food and 16 percent of income on healthcare.

Going by this, the average U.S. household is spending half as much on food and three times as much on healthcare as we did 50 years ago. True, part of the increase in healthcare spending can be attributed to advances in medicine, etc., but looking at the increase in diet-related disease along with changes in eating habits (e.g. the rise of the fast food chain), the lines are drawn. As our spending on food has decreased, the amount of money going to healthcare has increased.

After months of debating the complicated healthcare crisis, when you look at this little statistic, things look a lot simpler.

What if Americans spent a little more on food? What if we put more value on the quality versus quantity? What if we invested in heath education programs? What if the focus shifted to prevention? What if government spending on healthcare went to subsidizing broccoli instead of insurance companies? What if the role of food in our country became a topic in the healthcare debate? I think it should be.

It’s something to think about … and a little fodder for the debate you’ll be having with someone in your family over the holidays.

food politics

Food Politics

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Michael Pollan chimes in on the healthcare debate. Bringing attention to the elephant in the room, he says there’s a disconnect between two very related industries: food and healthcare. When three-quarters of heathcare spending goes to “preventable chronic disease” linked to diet, according to the Center for Disease Control, you’d think someone would connect the dots.

Right now there’s a lot contributing to the political hairball that is the food industry, but he says it may not always be that way, especially if the rules change on insurance companies. Without the option of dropping clients based on a “pre-existing condition,” there’s new incentive to prevent costly diseases and keep clients healthier. And as Pollan says, “Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.” It’s that shift that will get the ball rolling on food industry reform. And from there we can really start talking about solving our health care crisis.

Read the full NYT article.

For more from Pollan, check out his 2008 open letter to Obama about proposing a new post: Farmer in Chief.