Reimagining Health - The system is at breaking point
September 28, 2022
The treatment of acute, episodic disease has been revolutionised by antimicrobial therapy and advances in surgery. Modern day medical professionals are excellent at ‘rescue medicine’. The NHS specifically is incredible at providing free, life saving healthcare at the point of need.
In the opposite corner we have been 'managing’ chronic disease. Diagnosis of a condition and pharmacological management of symptoms creates the proverbial hamster wheel. Waiting for Science to translate to medicine takes an average of 17 years - slow progression indeed. The wheel continues to turn as numbers with symptoms and chronic disease skyrocket. Unfortunately the perpetual motion is not the only problem, the wheel has become heavier, harder to turn.
The exploding incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancers and neurological diseases like dementia increasingly impacts the longevity and healthspan of westernised populations. The massive increase required the invention of a system to quickly deal with these issues, unfortunately often at face value.
The labelling of an illness (diagnosis), followed by the initiation of a pharmaceutical (treatment) was the easiest way of keeping up with the spinning of the wheel. What is lost is humanity. The treatment of people as individuals not as population data, understanding people as whole beings physical, spiritual and emotionally driven, part of communities and families.
The burden is so heavy, the numbers so great, the symptoms so impactful on quality of life we have developed a quick fix to keep up with demand. Expert generalists, so maligned, yet so essential cannot keep up with need at the front line. The system is self perpetuating. As healthcare professionals scramble to keep up with demand, we created a system where its users expect it. This type of care., ‘a pill for every ill’. Go to the doctor and leave with some medication.
Lost to us is the idea of preventative healthcare. Not because most practitioners don’t believe in it, but because of a lack of time, resources, and the recruitment crisis as healthcare professionals burnout and patient populations demand more and ‘better care’. The better care is where the nuance is. Conversations about nutrition, sleep, relationships, exercise and stress are displaced for matching lists of symptoms with pharmaceuticals.
The moonshot here isn’t an incredible concept to behold. It is simply a remembering of what healthcare was designed to be. Preventative, holistic, and now we are here, the REVERSAL of chronic disease. We got lost trying to keep up with the explosion of metabolic illnesses which have been spurred by the impact of our environment on our health. I said simple, not easy. This will likely take the demolition and rebuilding of most standing healthcare systems, many of which, like the NHS, are falling in front of our eyes despite its workers desperately trying to provide the care they can within the confines of the system they work in.
We already have tools and processes to access and use medicine differently. Covid spurred innovation, we know how to make things happen quickly, trials can be done and peer reviewed, tech can be developed at lightning fast speed. Is there any need for developments in science to take the average of 17 years to be incorporated into clinical medicine? With this tech, behavioural change methods, precision testing, personalisation we can impact change. But this change cannot exist without environmental change i.e changes to the environment we are exposed to in its totality - advertising, pollutants, food manufacturing, farming, pharma, the list goes on.
An example of this is the combined impact of big food and appropriate concerns around climate change. Whilst companies scramble to produce meat alternatives as a ‘carbon neutral, planet saving hero’, the public is misled by the way that data is presented to them. We are lead to believe that ruminant animals, which are part of a rich ecosystem protecting the plane and its soil and life within it, are the main cause of global warming.
Demonising meat disadvantages millions of people’s health and livelihoods. ‘Meat free Mondays’ are a slippery slope. We misunderstand the effect of monocropping causing soil degradation, requiring the extinction of millions of animals, the impact of chemical fertilisation and huge amounts of pesticide. Big food, big pharma, they control billions of dollars - this is not all conspiracy theory!
Using innovations in medicine, understanding the impact of major corporations and utilising tools in conjunction with age-old techniques is the middle ground where we can start to protect our lives and our land. These tools which have been disregarded in favour of the time saving but autonomy destroying medical model that we exist in currently.
Chronic disease, underpinned by poor metabolic health can be reversed, using medication - sure! But also by remembering the impact of sleep, movement, body composition, nutrition and connection. The next generation needs a keen critical eye and they need medicine 3.0, the combination of holistic techniques and cutting edge science coupled with personalised, precision care.
Medicine is marvellous, but at the moment, perhaps we expect too much of it.