Holistic health
As we discussed last week, our current model of health care simply isn't working. This is obvious on a personal level if you think about all of the people you know who are suffering from chronic diseases and conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer, dementia, the list goes on...), as well as the amount we collectively spend on health care as a nation, and the fact that our country is now one of the lowest ranked industrialized nations in both health and longevity.

It is time to design a more effective healthcare system - one that takes into consideration not only our own health, but the health of the planet as well. Many call this holistic or integrative health care.

Today we will address the 5 aspects that will need to be taken into consideration when creating a more sustainable and holistic model of health care.

1. A Whole Person Model of Health

As I often say here, we are all connected. Not only to each other, but to the environment around us. This is becoming very obvious on a scientific level in recent years (more on that below), but modern medicine has yet to get the message. Unfortunately, our "modern" medical system really isn't that modern at all. Most medical schools still teach a mechanistic view of medicine, in which the focus is on the disease, and not on the individual. This allopathic model of health looks only at the treatment of symptoms, and not on finding an actual cure - or even better, preventing the problem in first place.

This model may be appropriate for acute health issues requiring surgery or immediate attention, but when it comes to the most common health problems - those that are chronic or ongoing - it is woefully inadequate.

A truly effective health care system must consider the connections between our physical health and many other aspects, both internal and external - including things like mental health and wellness, relationships with others, exposure to toxins, dietary considerations, and more. It is time to move to a "whole person" model of health, which considers our physical bodies as part of a greater whole, rather than isolated parts with no relationship to these other factors. The whole person model considers not just the health of the body, but also community health, environmental health, nutritional health, spiritual health, and mental health.

As the article here from TheNextSystem.org (also quoted below) states, "A holistic model must by definition include all the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of health. "

A whole person model of health would necessarily need to include much more details and data than our current model. For example, instead of just measuring physical aspects such as blood pressure or cholesterol levels, a more holistic model should also include measures like career satisfaction, community support, financial resources, and a sense of meaning and purpose.
At its core, the whole person model emphasizes resiliency and supports and promotes one’s ability to actually thrive.
We can catch a few glimpses of what such a model might look like through the innovative approaches of providers like HealthPartners, a large cooperatively-owned health plan and health provider in Minnesota, which has recently begun using these types of integrative measures of health and well-being in their policies.

2. Integrative Health and Medicine

As our focus shifts from disease symptoms to a whole person or holistic model of health, a more integrative way of looking at health is emerging, which is often referred to as Integrative Health & Medicine (IHM). Rather than focusing on the eradication of symptoms, IHM works to address the underlying cause. In order to do this, IHM incorporates knowledge from a diversity of disciplines, therapies, and healing traditions which emphasize lifestyle as the foundation to health and wellness. This makes so much sense in a world where most of our modern diseases can be classified as "lifestyle diseases." After all, it's quite obvious that no one is sick due to a "drug deficiency"!

The integrative approach is gaining favor among both providers and patients, as it offers a more satisfactory approach to discovering healthy treatment options that actually work.
By supporting the whole person and addressing the complexity of root causes, rather than focusing on the suppression of symptoms without actually restoring health at the same time, IHM allows providers to return to the joy of practicing both the art and science of medicine and health care.
 With today's astronomical drug prices, the IHM approach offers a more affordable and effective approach to treating disease, as well as chronic pain and depression. By reducing gratuitous drug use, we can not only reduce the host of side effects many of these drugs cause, but also reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that enter our waterways, causing "a host of ecological impacts and potential adverse health effects."

That said, not everyone is all that happy about the rise of integrative medicine. After all, this new model poses a significant disruption to the traditional approach to health care in our country, including the financial interests of the prevailing medical and pharmaceutical industries. But one hopes that as patients begin to realize there are other treatment options out there, the integrative model will begin to truly take hold as an alternative to the status quo, and bring about lasting change to our health care systems.

3. The Impact of Health and Place
"If we fully appreciate the surprisingly limited influence of health care on health, the locus of health shifts from our hospitals and clinics to the individual as a whole person, in the context of place. With this new lens, our health becomes place-based, meaning that where we routinely interact on a daily basis—our homes, neighborhoods, places of work and worship and our schools—determines our health."
This is a particularly interesting aspect of health that I don't think many of us really think much about. The places where we live and spend time have a huge impact on our health. Many indigenous cultures are aware of this, though we seem to have forgotten. After all, the environment around us is where our food, water, and the very air we breathe comes from! When you think of it this way, it is clear that our health is inseparable from the health of the world around us.

It is true that access to good health care is important, but it is also possible for health care to include larger community aspects such as access to nutritious food and clean water, safe and affordable housing, social and cultural activities, and other elements of whole person health as described above.

In fact, a recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of primary care physicians found that 85% believe that unmet social needs such as access to nutritious food, adequate housing, and transportation are a direct cause of worsening health in America.

In order to improve health across the board, we must begin to view health in a different light - one in which "our health becomes indivisible from that of our community and is a shared community responsibility."

4. Living Systems and the Democratization of Health

Our modern medical system has become disconnected from the very communities it serves, and in order to serve those who actually need access to good health care, it is necessary to bring about a"democratization" of health and health care.

It is time that hospitals and other health care providers come together with communities to discuss the important issues facing public health today. This will be quite a paradigm shift, but "ultimately, a health care system that works for everyone must include an ongoing process to include the voice of and to be accountable to the community." The new Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) is designed to accomplish this. The CHNA  is a legal requirement for hospitals to engage their communities and develop a plan to address their health needs.

The increasing numbers of cooperatively owned and managed clinics and medical facilities will also play an important role in this process. From the previously mentioned Minnesota HealthPartners plan, to the Community Investment Companies in the UK which provide a wide range of health services, including elder care and music therapy, to the Nuka System of Care in Alaska, which is focused around a holistic mission of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness, we can see several successful models of this type emerging.

However it is implemented, it is clear that, "Ultimately, whether through ownership models, the CHNA process, or ongoing engagements processes, health care must develop a means to reflect the values, the needs, the diversity, the complexity and the design of the local community."

5. Health, Environment and the "Rights of Nature"

It should be clear by now that we humans are actually a part of nature, and not separate from it! The recent discoveries regarding the human microbiome have shown us that in fact, a number of our modern health problems including cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and depression among others are related to and even caused by our relationship to our external environment, "through our interactions with animals, soil, food, the air we breathe and one another."

And new scientific discoveries are revealing more about our health and its relationship to our environment every day. For example, the new science of epigenetics explains how toxic chemicals can modify gene expression within our bodies. Recent studies have found that exposure to the natural world helps us heal - for example, a room with a view of nature decreases the duration of a hospital stay.

With this in mind, it only makes sense that health care should be tied to environmental concerns. And solutions are on the horizon. As the article mentioned above states,
"Conservatively, health care endowments are estimated to be about $500 billion dollars, which can be redeployed to support cleaner energy, invest in social enterprises or otherwise align capital to support whole health. Marketing budgets of hospital systems, which can be ten times higher than their entire food service budget, can be reallocated to further support food access and nutritious food from sustainable food systems. Through Health Care Without Harm, the campaign for environmentally responsible health care,  a wealth of tools and resources have been created over the last twenty years to help health care leadership and health providers align health and ecology. "
In conclusion, it is obvious that many of our health care challenges today are a function of outdated hierarchical and linear models which no longer serve our health or our planet. It is time for a radical redesign of our health care systems, and our view of health. It is time to take a more holistic, ecological, and integrative view of health and health care. Across the globe, leaders of all kinds, healthcare providers, and community organizations are beginning to realize this need, and are taking action to bring about this much-needed shift.

Our new model of healthcare must take into consideration the five aspects above, and find its way to a more regenerative and ecological model that respects both our own natures as humans, and the nature of the world around us upon which we rely.

It won't be an easy journey, but it is a necessary one, and it is one in which we can - and must - all take part.
The health and well-being of individuals is inseparable from nature and inseparable from the health of community. Our job is to put ancient knowledge and traditional wisdom into right relationship with science and technology.

...We can feel confident that intention and action will naturally emerge as we reconnect to our consciousness and inner purpose as whole beings on a living planet.
To your health,



Your comment will be posted after it is approved.

Leave a Reply