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The future of healthcare

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What if most of the effort expended in healthcare was actually spent on keeping people healthy rather than managing the sick? What if we could abandon the health wars between different factions in medicine, with everyone sharing a holistic view of human health, in a system built on sound scientific principles that puts the individual – not particular industries or medical specialties – right at the center?

What if the fifth biggest employer in the world, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), instead of facing bankruptcy, only needed to handle half of its current disease burden? It could get on with doing what it does best: treating people with acute conditions and life-threatening, infectious and other late-stage diseases.

That’s what the Alliance for Natural Health’s blueprint for health system sustainability, released at the tail end of 2018, is all about.

Our initial focus has been on the UK health system, a taxpayer-funded health care delivery system that’s free at the point of use and still widely heralded as the jewel in the British social welfare crown. If we can get a new, sustainable health system up and running in Britain, before the NHS crumbles under its current load, our view is that it can be made to work anywhere.

Our blueprint – the result of years of research and wide consultation – is a consensus position paper. We call it a blueprint because it shows what can be done with a common vision. But to get there, there needs to be a seismic shift in how we manage our health.

Let’s look at five ways that the system we describe in our blueprint is different from the existing system:

First, it focuses on health creation and regeneration, rather than disease management.

Second, the blueprint looks at the health of every individual, as well as the wider systems that influence health, through two distinct lenses: ecology and sustainability. This allows for a common language that can be used in all kinds of communication between individuals and health professionals, regardless of their discipline.

Third, the focus is on balancing 12 distinct domains of health that we refer to as the biological terrain – things like our ability to control blood sugar, our inflammatory status, the balance in our hormonal and nervous systems, how we react to stress, and our main drivers for getting out of bed in the morning. When these areas are in balance, good health is inevitable.

Fourth, the blueprint identifies 10 hallmarks that are necessary for health systems to be sustainable – things like reducing dependence on drugs, fully informed consent for all kinds of medical intervention, and being upstream-focused, meaning you’re always hunting down underlying causes of disease rather than just treating symptoms.

Finally, it’s about making sure all hands are on deck when it comes to health and fitness professionals. In the UK – like most other countries – there’s a whole range of healthcare practitioners that far outnumber primary care doctors.

These professionals, in integrated, complementary or alternative medicine and various branches of physical therapy and fitness, do an amazing job helping people stay healthy or get better. But they’ve been marginalized by mainstream medicine, often for entirely the wrong reasons.

We’re led to believe it’s because what they do doesn’t work. This simply isn’t the case. It’s actually because it’s hard to prove how, or by how much, what they do works. We just don’t yet have the right kind of universally agreed-on experimental or clinical monitoring systems, let alone the funding, to measure exactly what’s happening and what the cause-and-effect relationships are.

The fact is, the public wants integrative and natural forms of medicine in ever greater numbers. More and more people are disillusioned with the ‘pill-for-an-ill’ system of mainstream medicine, where the doctor decides what’s best, usually prescribing a drug that has a very limited target, doesn’t deal with the underlying cause and often yields some kind of unpleasant side-effect.

Of course, no one will accept the kind of radical changes contained in the blueprint without evidence of its effectiveness. But in fact, evidence is actually the very foundation of the blueprint. A lot of it comes from proven mechanisms of how things work. But it also comes from what people – both patients and practitioners – have experienced.

What we’ve done is show how all the key players can come together and build a consensus view. From here, the whole collaborative and participatory system described in the blueprint can be put to the test – in the real world, in community settings.That’s the kind of co-creation we believe can turn the blueprint into reality.

The reason this has got to be such a priority is because, as a society, we need to make sure we know how the health of the next generation is going to be managed. And as we’ve seen in other areas where sustainability has been applied – like agriculture or energy – that means working with nature, not against it.

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Article Topics: health, medicine
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