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Prevention is the future

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What’s happened to healthcare over the last half century or so? Those of us who’re a little older might remember the kindly gaze of the family doctor, listening carefully while you spoke about your concern. Then there’d be the comprehensive physical exam – the cold of the stethoscope, the tightening of the blood pressure cuff, maybe being asked to lie on the exam table.

In ancient health traditions like Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine, the patient was even more central to the process. All sorts of indicators, today either overlooked or not understood, were examined – the condition of the iris of the eyes, pulse, tongue, lymph and fascia, to name a few.

So what did happen? First and foremost, the arrival of technology. Lots of it. Couple that with less available time – and therefore higher throughput – and the transformation of doctoring from a vocation to a business, and we’re well on our way to today’s often deeply inadequate primary care scenario.

Many have to deal with their physician seeming more preoccupied with a computer screen than themselves. The doctor’s key focus appears to be ‘naming and taming’ – to diagnose the complaint and prescribe a pill of some sort.

There is a disconnect between the patient and doctor, but all too often there’s an even deeper disconnect in the doctor’s understanding of the complex interactions in the patient’s life that might have led them to decide a trip to the doctor was needed.

We’ve also alienated ourselves ever further from our natural and ecological origins – a separation driven by our addiction to technology. We’ve bought into, often subconsciously, the superiority of human innovation over natural systems.

Technology provides so many of our other ‘fixes,’ such as in business or transport, why shouldn’t we rely on it in healthcare? The human being is now seen as more of a machine than an organism. If part of the machine doesn’t work, you need to find a man-made ‘fix’ for the broken component.

This has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to become the single most dominant force in healthcare. The business of disease is alive and well. But people are getting ever sicker.

It’s not just obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Mental health problems and autoimmune conditions are skyrocketing. The massive overuse of antibiotics is creating a resurgence of infectious diseases, too.

All that, before you factor in that the accepted ‘solution’ – prescription drugs and ‘modern’ medical care – is now the third biggest killer in society.1

Where has the care gone in healthcare? Do most doctors really care for their patients in the best ways known? Does the system around them even allow them to do the best they can? Most importantly, do our entrusted doctors really know what they don’t know?

The ‘art’ of medicine has been replaced with very technologically driven science, more like engineering than ecology. Yet, the body is a living system that interacts with both an inner and outer world – so we don’t just approximate an ecological system, we are one.

When we want to understand how a rainforest or a coral reef works, we don’t open an engineering textbook. We look to the science of ecology, the central theme of my academic career.

Our love affair and subsequent dependence on drugs for ‘health’ was born out of the rapid emergence of the pharmaceutical industry after WWII – a patent-dependent business that heralded much promise, both to wipe out disease and maximize profits for shareholders.

Now, drug-development pipelines are sparse, and people are spending more and more of their lives in suboptimal health. Consensus has been reached that the biggest diseases threatening to collapse the mainstream biomedical model are actually preventable. But we don’t have consensus on how to fix our current health challenges.

I sense there’s a definite agenda among some on that point. Why would you acknowledge that everyday behaviors, such as how we eat, move, sleep and relax, are integral to the solution? That would make not only drugs, but most of the so-called ‘healthcare system,’ irrelevant.

The healthcare sector surpassed the retail and manufacturing sectors to become the largest employer in the US in 2018. The UK’s National Health Service is the fourth largest employer in the world. So governments, let alone industry stakeholders, are not going to dispense with this business model overnight – it will take time.

And that’s exactly what the Alliance for Natural Health blueprint for health system sustainability is all about – systemic transformation of the way we manage our health. This includes minimizing reliance on drugs, prioritizing non-drug approaches, a focus on the individual and self-care and a shift toward more predictive, preventative healthcare that emphasizes identifying the underlying causes of disease.

Crucially, our blueprint provides a common language that we can all use, whether members of the public, healthcare providers, politicians or businesspeople. Find out more at and search ‘blueprint.’

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Article Topics: medicine
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