Our health care system is really sick care, reactive and generalized. It focuses on disease management and is not sustainable. US health expenditures in 2015 accounted for nearly 18% of the US economy, about $3 trillion dollars. It is the highest in the world and about 50% more than the next highest spending country. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services places our US health care bill in 2024 to be at 19.6% of GDP.
Based on measures of cost, quality, efficiency, and equity, the US health system ranks only 37th in performance among 191 nations and is substantially under-performing. More telling is that the United States has the poorest health of the rich nations. According to the November 2016 Commonwealth Fund Survey, 35% of US low-income adults and 25% of all other adults have multiple chronic conditions while only about 15% of the non-low-income adults in 10 other rich countries have multiple chronic conditions. The US has been ranked as the worst among industrialized nations for the fifth time, according to the 2014 Commonwealth Fund survey. This is a distinction marked by failing health grades that begin in childhood.
A NEW APPROACH
We need a new approach if we are going to meet the needs of our growing population. But let’s be clear, a new approach is really about a major paradigm shift in how we approach our health. Paradigm shifts in any field run up against political and economic resistance as well as educational barriers. The health care industry is huge, involving larger and larger hospital complexes, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and, of course, the government regulatory agencies. When money and power are involved, change does not happen easily or quickly. And real changes usually happen from the bottom up, not the top down.
THE WORLD IS AGING
Today there are over 800 million people in the world who are 60 years or older. In a generation that number will more than double to two billion. Life expectency is currently 78, but the risk of dying between the ages of 50 and 74 is 30% for males and 20% for females. A whole lot of us are going to live well past the age of 78, and what you do now will greatly influence the quality of your life.
Life expectancy has doubled over the past 150 years, and with an extended lifespan an aging population is facing new chronic, yet preventable, diseases. Those diseases actually can start early; from a genomics point of view the potential is there at conception, when sperm meets the egg, but it’s the environment and our bad habits over time that cause chronic diseases. Society’s relationship with the environment has shifted from what we have been doing to the environment to what an increasingly toxic environment is doing to us; an environment of our own creation.
ILLNESS – WELLNESS CONTINUUM
Most of us think of wellness in terms of illness; we assume that the absence of illness indicates wellness. There are actually many degrees of illness, just as there are many degrees of wellness. We all need to be asking ourselves where we fit on the so-called “Illness-Wellness Continuum.” Are you at a high level of wellness, closer to death, or at a neutral point without discernible illness or wellness? More importantly, how do you know for sure where you are? Remember the present health care model is sick care, and chronic diseases often take years and even decades before symptoms arise.
It doesn’t matter where you start, but it does matter which direction you are facing. Wellness is all about choices; decisions we all make that move us towards illness or optimal health. Everything you do, think, feel and believe has an impact on your state of health.
The treatment paradigm (drugs, herbs, surgery, psychotherapy, acupuncture, and so on) works together with the wellness paradigm to help bring you up to the neutral point, where the symptoms of disease have been alleviated. The wellness paradigm directs you beyond neutral and encourages you to move as far as possible towards wellness. If you are ill, then treatment is important. There is no reason, however, to stop at the neutral point. Use the wellness paradigm to move toward high-level wellness.
If you look at the present and predicted health statistics for the industrialized world, most people tend to ignore the signs or risk factors until they become symptoms. Being proactive and taking care of your health by constant monitoring with precise tools and addressing problems before they become symptoms is the emerging medical model. Looking deeply into your DNA, your habits and the toxins in your environment are good places to start in optimizing your health.
Written by Bill Schaser, Director of Education