What is Traditional Healthcare?
I never used to think of healthcare as an industry or a business. Healthcare to me used to mean having a doctor I could call and get an appointment with if I got sick. And a hospital to go to if I was seriously injured or needed surgery. Healthcare meant doing my best to avoid heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Healthcare meant trying to eat well and exercise to avoid overweight and obesity.
That is no longer the case.
Knowing that healthcare is not as simple as I used to believe, I’ve become curious about what is happening in the healthcare industry. What are the trends? What might I expect to see in the future? What might my children and grandchildren see?
Currently, top health issues fall in the categories of physical activity and nutrition, overweight and obesity, tobacco and substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, mental health, injury and violence, environmental quality, immunizations, and access to health care. Top health problems are heart disease and stroke, cancer, opioid addiction, infectious disease, and diabetes. There is a growing need for behavioral health services, a continued concern about how to improve health equity and access to care, and a need to address rising drug costs.
None of this has changed much in the last several years since I completed my Master’s program in Health Promotion.
The trends in healthcare are aimed to address many of these issues, and depending on one’s perspective can be either astonishing or distressing.
Let’s walk through some of what is happening in healthcare.
Healthcare is shifting rapidly!
Since CoVid-19, there has been rapid growth and change in the areas of telemedicine to examine, diagnose, and treat patients from a distance. Perhaps you have seen billboards advertising a virtual visit with your doctor. Perhaps you have had virtual visits with your doctor. During the pandemic, telemedicine allowed providers to “see” and treat patients with much less risk of spreading illness. This has continued and is now becoming a much more accepted way of seeing your doctor. Many people now appreciate not having to leave their home, drive to an office and sit in a waiting room, worry about traffic or parking, take time off work, or find childcare.
I can certainly see the benefit of that.
Other benefits include lower costs than in office visits and increased reach of medical services to rural and underserved areas. Telehealth visits can also reduce unnecessary visits to the ER.
However, it is impossible for a physical exam to be done through a telehealth visit. It can be difficult to establish a relationship of trust through a phone screen or computer screen. And some are concerned that, while telehealth is increasing access to health services for many, it is simultaneously increasing the number of patients a provider is overseeing. In some instances, telehealth is making possible the “establishment of ‘virtual hospital wards’ . . .to oversee the treatment of numerous patients, all in their homes.” In addition, there are ongoing concerns about regulation of providers, healthcare reimbursements, and the safety of personal information.
Benefits of technology in healthcare
There is a whole new generation of wearable technologies equipped with heart rate, stress, and blood oxygen detectors, enabling healthcare professionals to accurately monitor vital signs in real-time. There is constantly adapting and advancing technology to track and monitor activity levels, cue exercise and movement, log meals and monitor cholesterol, and even warn of loud noise levels that may lead to hearing loss. In one review, the Apple watch was compared to a personal trainer, health coach, and all around health and fitness champ.
There are apps for practically everything.
Step-counters, calorie trackers and other wellness-based, exercise and nutrition applications have become incredibly popular as people are seeking easy and convenient ways to treat their ailments. Individuals can create online profiles and “shop” for providers that best fit their needs, goals, and budgets.
Artificial intelligence is being used for everything from Chatbots that gather information and direct consumers to the right healthcare professionals to aiding in surgery. Digital medical twins are being created and used in research settings to test new medications and predict future illnesses and addictions.
And, of course, it is easier than ever to get one’s PhD in Google medicine. A quick search can become a rabbit hole for exploration of symptoms, self diagnosis, and self medical care. The demand for personalized products and at-home testing continues to grow with easy availability of DNA testing, lab tests, allergy testing, and nutrition education.
In short, access to health information, testing, and healthcare providers seems to be getting easier and more convenient for many. Technology is rapidly changing and is helping to improve diagnostic care and surgical outcomes. And, healthcare disparities seem to be decreasing.
Are the trends in healthcare improving health?
A question that needs asked, though, is if these trends in healthcare are actually improving health.
I suspect that depends largely on one’s definition of health.
If “health” is, as Webster suggests, “a state of being free from illness or disease”, then an argument could be made that healthcare is improving health.
I do not believe health is as simple as the absence of illness or disease, though.
The World Health Organization suggests that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.”
This still doesn’t quite seem like enough, though. My current understanding is that true health involves wellness in the totality of the being – mental, emotional, spiritual, energetic, physical, and social. Health is a state of being, a way of thinking and approaching life that lends itself to ease, adaptability, and resilience. Ease, adaptability, and resilience in the totality of my being will naturally lend itself to lack of illness and freedom from disease. More than that, though, this sort of health will lend itself to greater enjoyment of life and freedom from fear driven behavior.
I don’t think apps that track movement and calories and stress can really address that. Nor can more convenient access to a doctor through telehealth.
I see a shift happening in how one chooses to approach health and healthcare.
What do these shifts in healthcare mean for you?
One option is to trust and rely on the expertise and experience of medical professionals. Get tested, visit your doctor regularly, follow commonly accepted standards for preventive screenings, and use technology to modify and improve personal behaviors of exercise and nutrition. Hope that you can avoid the worst of surgery. (In one study it was estimated that a person can expect to have 9.2 surgeries in their lifetime). And hope to avoid illness and breakdown in your body as long as possible. Worldwide, it is estimated that individuals will experience 69-74 years of good health, with 16-19 years of poor health following.
That is the best many hope for.
Another option, though, is to dive into all aspects of the health of the totality of your being – mental, emotional, spiritual, energetic, physical, and social. It likely won’t surprise you that professionals who address health in these ways are often outside mainstream Western medicine (although certainly not exclusive of anything current healthcare has to offer). Help with the health of the totality of your being will most likely come with holistic and alternative approaches. It is also most likely to last your lifetime, not just 69-74 years.
Want to know more about a different approach to health?
Check out some of our blogs for more about our approach to the best care for your one body.
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