By Dr. Rick Tague
I heard an intriguing quote this week, “America is not about prevention… We would much rather build a hospital at the bottom of a cliff than build a fence at the top.” What a sad commentary on our society and our health care system!
While attending Tulane Medical School, I also had the privilege of attending the Tulane School of Public Health. As a student there, a similar analogy proved to be one of the most important lessons I learned from Tulane.
One of my professors of public health and tropical medicine, Neal Halsey, M.D., used to describe preventive medicine as being like approaching a river that was full of struggling bodies floating downstream toward a certain death. Imagine tired, panicky people floating down the rapid river above Niagara Falls, unable to swim to shore. So, the “obvious” thing for you to do is to swim out into the water, grab somebody, and bring them back to shore and safety. Then, swim out again and grab another body and bring them back to safety. And so on…
Quickly you realize that there are far too many bodies in the river for you to save them all. So, you recruit everyone within earshot to join you in rescuing as many people as possible. Unfortunately, even after recruiting as many bystanders as possible, there are still not enough rescuers to save all that are perishing.
So, you continue to swim out and rescue as many as possible before exhausting yourself to a near death experience. And, because you and your fellow rescuers are so engaged in saving the perishing from certain death, no one has time to walk upstream along the river to find out why people keep jumping into the dangers and perils of the river! If only one person would have walked upstream and told people of the tragedy that would lie ahead if they entered the river, far more lives could have been saved, with far less effort and resources.
That story is, in fact, our story in America. Well trained, well meaning physicians and other health care providers (and our government and insurance companies) have historically focused on the admirable and understandable goal of “rescuing the sick” out of the river that is taking them toward death INSTEAD of going upstream, identifying what is causing the drowning, and PREVENTING the problem in the first place. (Immunizations, hygiene, seat belts, air bags, etc are welcome exceptions!)
Unfortunately, now the whole financial integrity of the health care system relies on the necessity of a certain number of people becoming sick with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and infections. If those illnesses disappeared completely, hospitals and doctors’ offices would be empty. This “unspoken secret” creates a conflict of interest with many health care providers, unfortunately. Although the provider cares about you, they won’t necessarily want you to get so perfectly healthy that you need no prescriptions and no further health care services! I hate to say that, but I’ve seen it in the real world far too often. Doctors and hospitals struggle with a conflict of interest when it comes to your health and your need for health care services.
In fact, it seems our entire “health care” system is built on the foundational priorities of identifying illnesses and then designing effective, but costly, treatment plans. An example of a conflict would be when a hospital contemplates whether to have “flu shot clinics” because if they prevented a flu epidemic the hospital just might not be able to make ends meet this year! Believe me, those conversations really do happen!
Now you know why prevention, promoting wellness and “optimum health” has not been the #1 top priority for medical care providers during the past 100 years. Optimum health and prevention of disease and disability should be the pursuit of every conscientious American who cares for themselves and wants to play a personal role in resolving the health care crisis in America.
Let Optimum Health through an intentional nutrition and fitness plan always be your goal. Prevention of illnesses, being fit, trim, and energetic will always follow. Find people who are passionate about health and surround yourself with them and absorb their influence and counsel. You are worth it! Nutrition, weight control, fitness, stress management, avoiding toxins, adequate sleep, you get the idea. Caring for yourself in advance of illness is always the right thing to do!