Getting people that are sick better again and preventing people from getting sick in the first place – this is what healthcare should really be about. Both the treatment and prevention should also be as efficient as possible. And if it’s an outstanding system there’d be bonus points for helping people improve their overall health even more than before they were sick – something that goes beyond prevention.
Those three steps – treatment, prevention and improvement is how an effective and efficient healthcare system should function. The funny thing is that this probably doesn’t sound like such a foreign concept. You hear about “prevention” all the time. And everyone knows that you shouldn’t let any situation get worse before trying to fix it for the better.
Where the confusion comes is that everyone will say “prevention” but we’re not all using the same “language” to say it. It really comes down to either treating/preventing causes or treating/preventing effects. Is the emphasis placed on the root-cause of the issue or on the symptoms of the issue? This is where the different languages are spoken and if you’re not able to translate and differentiate between the two you’ll quickly get confused and led down the wrong road.
This is especially important by doing a self-analysis when you are sick or injured. Let’s say that you develop high blood pressure. The question that you should really ask isn’t “how do I decrease my blood pressure?” – but “why did it elevate in the first place?” They both seem like similar questions but this is when you’ll choose the road of root-cause or symptom-based treatment. And more importantly, you choose what language you’ll start to speak as you progress to fix the issue.
You have to understand that your body doesn’t just randomly decide to raise your blood pressure, forcing you to be on constant watch as to what your body will mess up next. It didn’t have a limited supply of medicine in it and now it’s out and that’s why you need to consume a drug. Instead your body’s blood pressure is rising simply as a response to something else that’s going on. Your body is trying to communicate to you that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately the majority of people don’t really listen to their body or take much time to analyze why their body is responding in a certain way.
As a result of most people focusing on effects when it comes to their health the majority of our current healthcare system focuses on symptoms and the treatment for those symptoms. Now markets curve to the demands of the consumers. So you can’t blame this entirely on the healthcare system when the majority of its consumers in the healthcare market choose, deliberately or not, to take the road of a symptom-based treatment.
So the healthcare system is set up that if you come in with high blood pressure they’ll figure out something to get rid of the high blood pressure – because that’s what people will complain about. Which is only an effect, a symptom. The high blood pressure isn’t the cause of the issue – it’s the result, the symptom of a deeper issue. The high blood pressure is actually a sign for something that’s going on that needs to be addressed.
Another example is if you have a problem using your shoulder. In a symptom-based treatment they’ll try and figure out something to give you for the pain and maybe say you shouldn’t do certain activities as much to prevent the pain from occurring. They haven’t addressed the problem, but rather just taken out what they know will agitate the problem and use drugs to cover up your senses, dulling the communication you have with your body. Instead of looking at your biomechanics and assessing your muscle activity to see what is actually causing your shoulder pains.
An approach that focuses on symptoms makes about as much sense as when your engine light comes on in your car – for whatever reason – and your response is to cover the light with a piece of tape. It quickly takes care of the symptom of the light flashing at you – out of sight out of mind – right? No more worrying about what’s wrong with the engine. And chances are your car will still run fine for a while. A symptom-based approach would say that you’ve “fixed” the problem.
I would argue though that you’ve just fixed the symptom, you’ve eliminated the signal that something is going wrong at a deeper level. The root-cause of the light going off hasn’t been addressed at all, you’ve just “fixed” the symptoms of the deeper issue. You never know when your engine could just stop working when you’re driving down the road. Yes the warning signal – that annoying red light – is taken care of but is the cause of it really taken care of? Just because you effectively take care of the symptom doesn’t mean that you’ve fixed the root-cause of the problem in the first place.
The true meaning of preventative care is to retrace what caused the problem, or rather what produced the symptom in the first place. Your body has an amazing ability to regulate and heal itself. Your body wants to constantly maintain homeostasis as much as possible. If you cut your hand you don’t worry about how you’ll deal with it the rest of your life. Under normal circumstances your hand heals up in time and it’s back to its normal function.
Your body always wants to self-heal. The problem is that sometimes our bodies aren’t in a condition in which they can allocate resources to heal or fix a problem because it’s operating at less than optimal function. This decreased function is usually because of increased interference or inflammation. Your body only has 100% capacity to operate from. If because of interference or inflammation you’re only functioning at 60% then your body isn’t able to put resources to help fight disease or heal.
Your body was meant to last a long time and at a high level of function. When you eliminate the root-cause of the problem then that problem shouldn’t keep returning either – i.e., you won’t have to always take that medicine for the rest of your life to be rid of the symptoms.
The choice is yours – either cover up the problem or eliminate the problem altogether. Make sure to be an advocate for yourself and to give your body a fighting chance to fix itself. And always know what language you and your healthcare provider are speaking.
Check out this Freakonomics Radio Podcast that discusses a few of the other fundamental problems with the current healthcare system. It’s the 2nd topic of 3 that they discuss on that episode – fast forward about 8 minutes into it to just listen to the healthcare topic.