“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has;” “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food;” “Walking is man’s best medicine.” - Hippocrates
Your Whole Health
When it came to my personal health, less than a year ago I was running around to different medical specialists to figure out why I always felt “off.” Why was it that no one could determine why I was getting sporadic chest pains? Why was I always tired and getting chronic migraines? I never felt like the ‘happy-go-lucky’ self I once knew. It likely had to do with many aspects of my lifestyle. Today, sleep, proper movement, personalized nutrition, yoga, and meditation are all treatments I attribute to improving my health. Now, I am excited to start paving a way to help others as I begin my Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health fellowship.
Within my first few weeks of being a 2017-18 HFA fellow, I have been quickly embraced and exposed to more health professionals, policies, challenges, and treatments than I ever knew existed. I am quickly learning that chronic conditions such as stress, pain, diabetes, and heart disease could possibly be prevented with appropriate care that looks at the whole person. This level of care is supported by the right design of our care system, diverse practitioners, and reliability on a combination of conventional modern day medicine as well as integrative practices. Integrative medicine practices like deep breathing, proper nutrition, acupuncture, massage therapy, and more have the power to treat and prevent chronic conditions and can help each and every one of us live higher quality, longer lives.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, understood and acknowledged the critical components of lifestyle thousands of years ago: the person, the disease, the foods they ate, the medicines they took, and each person’s daily movement. There’s no doubt we have deepened our scientific knowledge and advanced technology that has extended our lifetimes; but have we lost the understanding of the world around us and how our lifestyles interact with our health?
As Deepak Chopra said, “No matter how much it gets abused, the body can restore balance. The first rule is to stop interfering with nature.”
Society often conflicts with proper self care, at least here in the United States. Many people pride themselves on long hours at work and drinking four cups of coffee a day, followed by a happy hour to destress from a day's work and an extremely large portioned dinner to make up for the lunch they didn’t have time to eat.
Burnout among professionals, doctors, and young students is more prevalent than ever. We need to take a step back and look at how we play into and can manage our own health and well-being.
Unfortunately, with high costs of medical school, high salaries of specialists, and other factors, we have a shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. I was unaware of this until completing one of the HFA fellowship required pre-reads, The Health Care Handbook by Elisabeth Askin, MD, and Nathan Moore, MD. Private insurance is changing and allowing many people to skip their primary care doctor and head straight to a specialist. But what if that specialist can’t give you what you need, contributing to your high healthcare costs? (Don’t worry, I’ve been there too).
So, what does a doctor shortage mean for patient experience? Why should you care? One thing it could contribute to is your shortened time with your doctor and your wait time before seeing your doctor. It’s simple supply and demand; if your doctor needs to see 30 or so patients in a day and is only at the office for eight hours, he or she has to quickly get you in to determine your symptoms, create your treatment plan, and hopefully send you on your way better than you came in.
Some doctors are able to put the time in and compassionately listen to make sure they can treat you as a whole person. After a half-day shadowing Terri Stone, MD, of MedStar, I was amazed with how much time she gave her patients. She intently listened to what their problems were, what they were doing throughout their day to help manage their symptoms, and what they were doing when symptoms persisted. She was truly invested in each and every person she saw.
However, when someone has a more complicated case, or if a physician needs a little bit more time to determine what they can do to help you, things then run behind schedule. Then once you’re gone, there’s all the charts, documents, notifications, and so on that they must process to get you the best care they can and, in the process, try to care for themselves and get home to their families.
To many doctors, your care is most important. They got into medicine to help people. Unfortunately, there are many other factors that lead to your flow throughout their office, your time waiting in the waiting room, and the possibly rushed diagnosis that just gives you ‘one more pill’ to take every day.
Sometimes doctors don’t know about your other symptoms, unless you tell them, or your lifestyle day to day. If your only reason for going in to the doctor each year is a physical, how do they know what you’re doing the other 364 days of the year, and how you feel, move, and think? Each goes into an aspect of our overall health.
Exercise physiologist Dan Black, another MedStar clinician I shadowed, sees the way each person he works with moves from the day they come in. He cares deeply, understands their goals and lifestyle, and is able to build a personal relationship. He then can create an exercise program for the specific person and focuses on building up the movement patterns that you naturally need to make in your day-to-day life.
As a yoga instructor, I get students that tell me about their injuries, but I am not a doctor and assure them that I cannot care for them as a trained physician might. However, there are many ways to combine the traditional treatment you receive from your doctor with lifestyle changes in nutrition, exercise physiology, yoga, and stress management as well as specific treatment in acupuncture, hypnosis, massage therapy and more depending on your needs and symptoms.
Understanding and finding the proper knowledgeable people and evidence-based treatment isn’t easy but it’s getting easier. Until recently I wasn’t clear on how hypnosis was used in medicine, for example. Finding informational resources and physicians you trust, asking questions, and starting to build better habits one day at a time can get you on track toward optimal health just as it did for me.
Until my next post, I’ll leave you with this food for thought learned throughout my experiences during my first weeks as a fellow:
Keep it positive: Do not beat yourself up when you have a ‘cheat meal’ or don’t have the energy to go workout one day. Show yourself compassion and kindness. Focus on the small wins, one day at a time.
Telemedicine: Is reaching out to your doctor via a phone call or online portal possible? Did you not feel you got the right treatment or something came up after an appointment? Try reaching out. Technology is making it much easier for us to get in contact with our care team off hours and outside of appointments.
Get some sleep: Sleep is the time each day our bodies get to recuperate. Your body needs it; prioritize sleep.
One thing at a time: If there was one thing you could do today to improve your health just a little bit what would it be?
Throughout the year, the 2017-18 HFA fellows, Renee and Sharon, will highlight their learning related to the HFA Curriculum. In addition to a document which shares tools, strategies, and resources related to the three program phases and four HFA pillars, the curriculum includes rich shadowing and simulation experiences as well as the guidance of physician, executive, and expert mentors. Stay tuned for more from Renee and Sharon on their curriculum learning.