As I enter into the healthcare sector and see more patients in the ‘real world’, I have been pondering how our healthcare system has, and has not, been working. I know things will change as I spend more time in this new chapter of life, and things will evolve with how I treat and talk with patients about the things I see with regards to their health. But for now, I have had a lot of thoughts on my mind and wanted to jot them down. One of the main questions I’ve been wrestling with is have we lost a human side to healthcare?
I have seen more and more patients come to me solely based on the fact that they don't trust their healthcare provider, that they have lost faith in the system, or that they don't feel heard and therefore cannot be healed. I have heard of a number of different patient zoom meetings with their healthcare provider that leave them with more questions than answers. I have seen the fine print of booking your doctor's appointment saying “there is a limit of 2 questions per visit” and “this appointment will be no longer than 30 minutes”. I’ve had doctors call their patients while they are in my office and write a new prescription, and be off the phone with them in 3 minutes. Has human healthcare become a numbers game? Has the focus somehow shifted on increasing our lifespan instead of our health span? Have we lost a human side to healthcare?
Before people get the wrong idea, I am not casting blame on our doctors, physicians, nurses, or any of the people who are a part of the healthcare system. I have nothing but respect and adoration for the people in healthcare who put others first in order to save lives. My heart breaks for those who give so much of themselves for people they don't even know, especially now in a world where they are being looked down on, called names, and abused at their place of work by some of the very patients they risk their own health for. I have heard nonchalant ramblings online and in person with commentary like “my doctor’s an idiot” or “I only have one good nurse, the rest of them are horrible,” all from individuals who specialize in anything but healthcare. I treat some of the most incredible nurses and health care practitioners who can't help but cry after being beat up for 40 hours a week from patients, job conditions, and policies. Are we treating these people with the respect they have sacrificed for? Have we lost a human side to health care?
There is an old adage that circulates throughout natural health care groups, exercise fitness groups and anti-pharma groups that every patient cured is a customer lost. Is our healthcare system just a growing business? Are those who are a part of the system just manipulated into believing they are helping people, but in reality are just padding their stats and bringing in more money? Could it be both? What would “big pharma” do if people were not so reliant on their medications in order to survive? Would they get destroyed by the people's revolution to take health into their own hands, avoiding drugs and trying to live healthy lives? Would people just start dropping dead without their grocery list of pharmaceutical drugs? It's hard to tell behind the veil of marketing, money, and misuse of power. I do find it hard not to blame Pharmaceutical corporations for things like the opioid crisis, and for their ad campaigns that prey on the lay person's inability to critically look into the physiology they may be altering with the drug they slurp down each morning and night. But, I do believe that the doctors prescribing these lists of medications and treatments did not just sign up for one of the most stressful jobs with the highest suicide rates solely because they want to make money and disregard people. I think that the increase of physician suicide rates is more an indication that they got into a profession that didn’t live up to what they thought it was going to be. I could definitely be wrong, but has business taken over healthcare so much that even our physicians are feeling helpless against the weight of pushing a sale instead of a cure? Are they silently suffering and having their mental health affected while trying to help patients with the last of their energy reserves? Have we lost a human side to healthcare?
Preventative health care is not off the hook either. The amount of fitness consultations I have had with individuals who set unrealistic goals and then get discouraged, just to find out that their idols on Instagram have breast implants, no job outside of their fitness posts, butt implants, steroid abuse, access to personal trainers, nutritionists, biometric feedback, sponsorships, camera angles, lighting, filters and professional photographers - it's no wonder people can’t stick to an exercise routine or believe that they can be healthy. Companies who also stoke and build a community “anti western medicine” fire, and use the hatred and anger in society to sell their “cure all” oils and supplements, ointments and treatments, in my mind are no better than the hated pharmaceutical companies that use sales tactics to push a product that is not safe or even affordable. The number of products marketed, especially in nutrition, that are making claims of “saving your life” or “you're a monster if you eat that” have created (or at least carried on) a culture where the basic human right of eating a meal can be looked at as a sin. I have been bad for unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) casting judgment on those around me for enjoying a treat, or for not having the mental fortitude to say no to their favorite nighttime snacks and indulging even when they should be intermittent fasting, etc. We, as preventative medicine promoters, are not without blame, and can sometimes forget that health is about the individual and not about a one-size-fits-all solution. Do we in the preventative space get swept away in a competition to draw peoples’ attention, and beat out the competition around us, without putting our patients first? Have we gotten discouraged by the quick fix solutions that seem to be winning the population’s brain chemical reward systems? Have we lost a human side to healthcare?
Healthcare is always evolving, trying to better itself using the latest scientific technologies and advancements, the latest super drugs and treatment techniques, the latest discoveries and educational principles. These discoveries can be amazing and I am all for the advancement of getting people to live high quality and healthier lives, but is it working? Are we a healthier and happier society because of these advancements? I just get the feeling we are letting the humanity of healthcare slip away in the process and the name of ‘something is greater on the other side’. Are we forgetting some of the fundamental things that make us healthy and happy as human beings? The social outings and human connection that build our immune system, the walks with friends that protect our heart and pump our life giving blood and fluid, the deep sleeps that rejuvenate us and calm our nervous system, the nutrition we evolved with and cultivated to literally grow our human cells and develop us… These fundamentals all seem to somehow be getting lost in the stress and speed at which we are moving. Can we find a human side to health care?
Can we take a step back? Give ourselves a break and allow ourselves and others around us to be human? Can we catch ourselves before calling others an idiot and look at how we can improve our own health? When we are healthy, and work to be even just 1% healthier each day, we give ourselves time, energy and focus to think, rationalize and move about the world at a speed we were designed for. We take care of ourselves and are able to give to others from the energy we have overflowing, instead of feebly offering up the dregs, or worse, using that little energy we have to tear other humans down. How do we build up our energy reserves? I sometimes refer to our health like a bank account. We can drain the resources pretty fast by going on benders, partying it up, and using it to make others’ lives harder, but if we take a second and start saving a little bit every day, it starts to pay dividends and gives us compound interest over time. This includes all aspects of our health whether it be physical, emotional, or even spiritual. Some in the health and fitness industry use the buzz word self care. I want to emphasize, though, that self care is not sitting in front of a tv all night or in front of social media stressing ourselves out. It’s being creative, reading others’ thoughts in a long form format and truly listening without an agenda of our own. It’s moving our bodies at the speed that we can without feeling the need to compare our improvements to others. It’s relaxing in a bath or shower without a phone, it’s meditation and giving our brain a rest, it’s finding someone who helps us be our best without a quick fix or cover up of symptoms. It’s being a part of a community and interacting with other human beings face to face. Ultimately healthcare starts and ends with the patient - with YOU.
I understand this may be very hard for people to do when the society and systems we have set up are made for faster, stronger, better outcomes all the time. But I challenge you to just live 1% better from day to day. If you don’t know what to do then start small and start learning. Get up 10 minutes earlier and go for a walk and see the sun. Take 20 minutes at lunch to meditate or socialize instead of being on your phone. Go for an evening walk instead of watching the news. Cook a meal with family instead of eating out. Book some time with friends where you don’t just discuss world politics and “what’s wrong with” the world. Ask someone how their day is and just listen. Make small changes and help to bring the human side back into health care.