Putting Health Back Into Health Care

by Susan MacLaughlin

Consider for a moment your interactions with the American health care system. If you don’t feel well, you may try to self-diagnose and self-medicate in order to feel better. If you’re really sick, you may go to the doctor. Your doctor may examine you and run some tests to learn or confirm what’s wrong. After making a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe medication, offer instructions for self-care, and send you on your way. If you’re really sick, you may be admitted to the hospital.

Have you noticed that a diagnosis is the key to our health care model? Without a diagnosis, the doctor won’t treat. Without a diagnosis, the insurance company won’t pay for services. That may seem okay on first glance. However, diagnosis implies disease. We are practicing disease care in this country. If Dr. Phil were to ask, “How’s that working for you?” we’d have to admit, “Not very well.”

We’re Losing the War on Disease
Politicians like to declare war on social problems. It rallies the troops to their side, solidifying their power base. It gives the public a false sense of security that the government is doing something to help. Remember the “War on Drugs?” How well did “Just say no” work? What about the “War on Cancer?” Do you remember that one? I’m guessing the answer is no; we lost that war – badly. Today, there’s a “War on Diabetes,” and we’re losing that one, too.[1]  What’s the alternative?

Optimal Well-being
Before we talk about a new approach to health care, let’s take a moment to define what we mean by health. The World Health Organization suggested, “Health is more than the absence of disease. Health is a state of optimal well-being.”[2] The American Holistic Health Association elaborated:

Optimal well-being is a concept of health that goes beyond the curing of illness to one of achieving wellness. Achieving wellness requires balancing the various aspects of the whole person. These aspects are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. This broader, (w)holistic approach to health involves the integration of all of these aspects and is an ongoing process.[3]

Described in this way, it’s clear that our health care system is lacking.

Imagine Another Dimension
Imagine, if you will, another dimension, “a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.”[4] No, we’re not entering the Twilight Zone, but more of a health zone. We’re talking about an alternate reality that could have been ours if 19th century scientists had adopted Béchamp’s theories along with Pasteur’s. We’ve all heard of Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology and germ theory. But, who was Béchamp? My point exactly.

Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp

Today, it’s not easy to find information on
Pasteur’s rival, Pierre Jacques Antoine
Béchamp.[5] According to Dr. Len Saputo, a
leader in the field of integral-health medicine,
Béchamp believed that unhealthy lifestyle
factors, including stress and a poor diet, create
the “terrain” that makes us vulnerable to disease.
To be healthy, we need to strengthen “our natural
defenses.”1

Saputo suggested we look at health as a continuum, ranging from perfect health at one end to death at the other:

From Dr. Len Saputo's "A Return to Healing" (p. 141).

As he pointed out, Western medicine focuses on disease care – the part of the spectrum where symptoms are present. The other end of the spectrum – “the wellness buffer” – is largely ignored. Therefore, to change our approach to one of true health care, we need to promote health along the entire functional spectrum of wellness and disease.1

Changing Our Paradigm
Our forebears missed an opportunity when they favored Pasteur over Béchamp, ignoring the wellness buffer and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. However, it’s not too late for us. We can start by practicing good self-care. Dr. Jim Gordon, head of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), preaches “Self-care is primary care.” Gordon promotes an integrated approach to health and healing, one that includes self-awareness along with diet and exercise. CMBM trains health professionals so they can, in turn, teach their clients and patients a comprehensive set of “life skills,” including stress management techniques.[6]

Today’s mind-body medicine addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. By providing a range of tools for self-care, this health-based model empowers each of us, as individuals, to take responsibility for our own health and well-being. Unfortunately, most health insurance policies do not cover many complementary and alternative therapies much less training in self-care techniques. Today, we pay out-of-pocket for health promotion, while politicians continue to debate the details of health care reform. Stuck in an outdated paradigm, our representatives and candidates for president don’t realize that they are missing the point. They are attempting to find solutions to the wrong problems; they are waging war on disease instead of creating health for Americans.

It’s time for Congress to go beyond disease care; it’s time for them to embrace – and fund – holistic health care that promotes optimal well-being. How would that work? If self-care is part of the solution – and I believe it is – then we need coverage for self-care. We can start by teaching Americans how to be and stay healthy. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this one. Many high quality educational programs exist. We just need to get the information out there – in a big way – for very little or no cost to the consumer. In the short term, that means getting insurance companies and employers to foot the bill for nationwide implementation.

In the long term, when we enact comprehensive national health care policy, health education and health promotion need to be among the major components. By synthesizing the best practices in holistic health education to strengthen our natural defenses, we can deliver a fully integrated model of health care to our citizens.

What’s your opinion? Please share your comments.

[1] Saputo, L. (2009). A return to healing: Radical health care reform and the future of medicine.  San Rafael, CA: Origin Press.

[2] World Health Organization. (1948). Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June – 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/suggestions/faq/en/

[3] American Holistic Health Association. (2007). Wellness from within: The first step. Retrieved from http://ahha.org/WellnessBooklet.pdf

[6] Gordon, J.S. (2009). Manifesto for a new medicine: Your guide to healing partnerships and the wise use of alternative therapies (p. 17). Reading, MA: Perseus Books.

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One response to “Putting Health Back Into Health Care

  1. Pingback: Make Health Not War | Envisioning Health

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