Two books caught my eye this week: Disease-Proof by David Katz and The New Health Age: The Future of Healthcare in America by David Houle and Jonathan Fleece. A quick perusal of both books reveals the following themes: 1) Our health care system is unlikely to be fixed by maintaining the status quo. 2) It’s more likely to be fixed by you and me and changes we make in how we think about our health and how we live our lives. 3) Totally altered thinking can bring major breakthroughs and dramatic change in healthcare practices.
Disease-Proof points out that we live in a time when $.75 of every health care dollar is spent on managing preventable chronic disease. At the same time we face an epidemic of prescription pill use. Rather than waiting for the government or private industry to fix this, Katz suggests that we take greater responsibility for our own healthcare. Why? Because we can.
- Less than 1/3 of us exercise regularly.
- 2/3 of us are overweight.
- Well over 60 million of us are smokers.
- Over 1.5 million of us die annually from preventable causes.
Katz is optimistic. He champions preventive medicine and tells us, “we can reduce our risk of any chronic disease by an astonishing 80 percent—more than any drug or intervention could ever hope to do”, and that “abundant scientific evidence shows that four simple things play an enormous role in our health.”
- not smoking
- eating well
- being active
- maintaining a healthy weight
Readers of this blog won’t be surprised when I add a fifth “simple thing”– prayer. I’m one of the 77% of Americans, who, according to a recent Fox News poll, believe in the power of prayer to heal illness. I’m not sure why we don’t hear more about something that so many of us believe in. But that may be about to change too.
The New Health Age: The Future of Healthcare in America, by David Houle and Jonathan Fleece, argues that change is on the way. Houle is a renowned futurist and Fleece is a well known health care attorney. They tell us that, “The twenty-first century will be a time of dramatic change, incredible breakthroughs, and totally altered thinking about health, medicine, and health care delivery.” There is good reason to believe that this “dramatic change” will include the rapid growth of integrative medicine, which includes the exploration of spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation. Several interviews I’ve done recently suggest that integrative medicine is taking a larger role and that professional discussion of spirituality has not only become acceptable but expected.
Dr. Ashwin Mehta, Director of Integrative Medicine at University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, told me that he envisions a near future where care centers will be considered remiss for not offering spiritual counseling and practices as part of their treatment programs. He pointed out that medicine has more traditionally been part of rather than separate from spiritual practices. It’s only the more recent and relatively short age of scientific materialism that has tried to separate the two. He and his colleagues in Miami have been chronicling and encouraging the steady increase in spirituality as an accepted and normal part of healthcare.
Dr. Neal Krause at the University of Michigan recently received an $8 million Templeton Fund grant to carry out a comprehensive nationwide study of spirituality and health. As far as he knows, this is the first study of its kind. He expects that it will bring together studies from Harvard, Duke, George Washington University and many other university research centers that have been pursuing separate studies of how spiritual practices effect health and how we can better integrate them into current practice. To date these efforts have suffered from a “silo effect” which has hampered the synergy needed to bring these studies to bear on mainstream medical practice. That’s about to change too.
When a Templeton VP asked Krause what he would do if he could do anything, he said he wanted to “swing for the bleachers” to “put one over the fence”. Krause has the background, experience and academic authority to do that. His well-funded efforts to collect, organize, encourage and offer the public the best current thinking and practice linking spirituality and health may be one of the “incredible breakthroughs” Houle and Fleece envision in The New Health Age.
A sincere searcher for health with a similarly big vision from the last century, Mary Baker Eddy, said in a well known sermon titled, “The People’s Idea of God: Its Effect on Health and Christianity”,
“Scientific discovery and the inspiration of Truth have taught me that the health and character of man become more or less perfect as his mind-models are more or less spiritual.”
Eddy actually did “put one over the fence” by founding a worldwide religion with a strong element of spiritual healing, as well as a Pulitzer prize winning international newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor.
As the new era of healthcare continues to depart from the status quo, it may not be led by government and business as much as by you and me, and the changes we’re willing to make in the ways we think about and reach for health.