Medicine and Health: The Dangerous Disconnect
Synopsis: Dr. Lin Weeks-Wilder author of Medicine and Health: The Dangerous Disconnect, says maximizing innovation is the most important health policy priority. Our grandfathers would be puzzled by some of the conditions which are now treated with pills. Conditions like simple colds, for example, were part of life, taking antibiotics for the viruses causing colds and flus would not have made sense. Are there specific actions an individual can do to influence the dismal forecast of more and more pills prescribed by more and specialists as we age?
We live in a country with arguably the best educated, wealthiest citizenry and with what many insist is the best medical system in the world. Why then does a recent Mayo Clinic study report that seven out of ten of us take at least one prescription medication and a recent Health Affairs article find that the average sixty-five year old ingests fourteen prescription medications each day
The Answer is Simple
We have medicalized our health.
Our grandfathers would be puzzled by some of the conditions which are now treated with pills. Conditions like simple colds, for example, were part of life, taking antibiotics for the viruses causing colds and flus would not have made sense; our grandparents would chuckle bemusedly at some of the additions to the DSM-5, the diagnostic guide for The American Psychiatry Association: Additions like premenstrual dysphoric disorder, hoarding disorder, caffeine withdrawal, skin picking disorder, binge eating disorder are just a few of the fourteen recent additions which would boggle the mind of any one living in the nineteen fifties, sixties, perhaps even in the eighties. The idea of making gluttony, greed, nervous picking at skin and fingernails, and or the somatic effects of stopping daily coffee conditions for which to seek psychiatric treatment would have made no sense at all a couple of decades ago.
It was in the late seventies when I witnessed the distinction between medicine and health.
At a holistic health conference in Houston, I listened to speakers disabled from devastating injuries explain what I had never stopped to consider. The keynote speaker, a practicing trial attorney, was a man whose spinal cord had been injured so badly in a diving accident that all motor and sensory function below his third cranial vertebra was absent. At nineteen, he was told by the medical professionals that his burgeoning law career was over before it began. He spoke calmly about the certainty with which the physicians had explained why he could never return to college, never mind become an attorney. The man explained in simple but powerful language his reality: he would never walk or have the use of his body below his neck but that did not prevent him from enjoying the vitality of a satisfying career, a family, of health. Only had he believed what he was told, by people who did not understand health, who had been trained in disease, would he be deprived of these things.
Several years later, I learned that medicine and public health had each gone their separate ways in the beginning of the last century when American medical schools adopted the European model of medical training. Enrolled in the doctoral program in the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston, I became fascinated by data I had never read nor been introduced to; data which demonstrated unequivocally that the dramatic increases in longevity in this country had been gained not by the emergence of antibiotics but rather environmental and life style changes. Infectious diseases rates dropped like stones in the late thirties due to simple measures like clean water, understanding of the need for hand-washing and adequate sewerage treatment. Many studies revealed that 85-90 percent of the reasons people seek medical advice will resolve on their own, without treatment.
There emerged as well, studies from researchers like Victor Fuchs which revealed the dangers of too much medical treatment; more recent data can be found in Dr. Guy Clifton's excellent book, Flat-lined: Resuscitating American Medicine. There is a point where too much medical treatment is harmful; many of us now suffer from too much medical treatment.
None of what I write is new; Ivan Illich coined the phrase iatrogenic disease for the complications of medical treatment in his 1975 book, Medical Nemesis. Now the fourth leading cause of death in this country, the dangers predicted by Illich now affect over 250,000 who die each year from the side effects of prescription drugs.
Are there specific actions an individual can do to influence this dismal forecast of more and more pills prescribed by more and specialists as we age? Absolutely. Here are nine tips you may want to consider:
- Turn off your television.
- Decide to partner with your doctor.
- If you don't exercise, decide to start.
- Evaluate what you eat normally and don't make excuses.
- Decide to take responsibility for your health-starting now.
- Avail yourself of the information available at your fingertips about health, fitness and nutrition.
- If you need to lose weight, study the many experts available on line who have lost weight and know how to keep it off.
- Understand that your doctor may be required by his or her Board of Medicine and organizations like The American Heart Association to provide recommendations that may not be in your best interest.
In Overdosed America, published in 2004, Vermont Dr. John Abramson explains the many reasons he quit his private practice of internal medicine. One of them was a new standard imposed by the American Heart Association, requiring him and all other doctors to prescribe a statin for patients 65 and over regardless of whether they had a history of heart disease. The data describing the iatrogenic effects of statins can easily be found on line.
You are the best judge of the health of your body, not your doctor. Many of the chronic diseases affecting all of us can be mitigated by diet and exercise. Expert a partnership with your doctor. If she refuses to partner with you, find another. In his riveting book, The Healing Heart Norman Cousins explains his failed attempt to teach his famed Cardiologist the value of tennis for his healing heart. When the man refused to learn, Cousins fired him.
There are numerous young scientists studying the effects of micronutrients in the body in a fascinating emerging field called epigenetics. Much of their material is free and quite exciting. In the end, your weight depends on you not your doctor. Once again, there are a wide variety of medical and non-medical experts you can read and experiment with.
Exercise is Critical
All too many of us make excuses for ourselves and deprive ourselves of one of the best cures for whatever ails us - sweat. In the making excuses department about our diets, the old adage, 'we are what we eat ' cannot be improved on, especially as we age. When you make your evaluation of what and how you eat, unless you're twenty, the first things that will need to go are the carbohydrates. Until exercise and the new way of eating become habit - generally four to six weeks - keeping your television turned off will help for several reasons: You'll replace that sitting and watching time with an activity that will burn more calories, depriving yourself of the many advertisements about foods while you are trying to change your diet lessens temptation and ignorance of the latest prescriptive remedy for sleeplessness can only help.
Dr. Lin Weeks-Wilder holds a Doctorate in Public Health from The University of Texas School of Public Health and has over thirty years administrative experience in academic health centers ranging from critical care nurse to hospital director. She spent twenty-three years at the Texas Medical Center and another three years as Hospital Director at University of Massachusetts Medical Center. While serving as Chair of the Hermann Hospital Institutional Ethics Committee for five years, Weeks-Wilder was featured in TIME Magazine and Lisa Belkin's acclaimed book First Do No Harm.
Now a full-time writer, Dr. Wilder has published over 38 articles and 6 books on topics such as hospital management, institutional ethics, cardiovascular physiology, nursing practice, management and Catholic Christianity. She is currently writing the sequel to The Fragrance Shed by a Violet. Dr. Wilder resides in Wellington, Nevada.
This quality-reviewed article relating to our Disability Publications section was selected for publishing by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Medicine and Health: The Dangerous Disconnect" was originally written by Dr. Lin Weeks- Wilder, and published by Disabled-World.com on 2014/10/08 (Updated: 2021/05/11). Should you require further information or clarification, Dr. Lin Weeks- Wilder can be contacted at linwilder.com. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.
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