All too common diseases, the vast majority of which are preventable and becoming more prevalent, are not befitting the inherent nobility of a human being. The imperative of health care is to empower patients with the knowledge, the insights, the understanding, the will, and the resources to maintain their health and prevent diseases
At the root of the matter, the current poor state of health care is not so dissimilar to the cause of other ailments crippling our communities: a paralysis of human will. This crisis requires a re-examination of our assumptions of basic human nature. Instead of treating ourselves and the people around us as problematic, unresponsive, and self-consumed, we must view human beings as noble, intelligent, altruistic, and desiring to contribute to the betterment of the world. Coupling this understanding of identity with the necessary knowledge and resources will empower an individual to improve his or her own physical health, and other aspects of daily life.
Moving beyond the individual, the culture of a community is something that, if transformed, can effect a profound change in public health. Smoking is one such example. For decades, smoking has been one of the leading causes of preventable disease and death in the world. Knowing that smoking is detrimental for health is necessary to reduce its popularity, but even with that knowledge people will still begin to smoke. On the other hand, if smoking was not portrayed as “cool” or popular in society, then rates of teens and young adults who start to smoke would decrease drastically. The same concept of a change in culture applies to exercise and healthy diets, both of which contribute to preventing obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, which, along with smoking, account for most causes of preventable death.
Across the entire country, and placing a large toll on the cost of the health system, is the culture of receiving primary care in the ER. Citing one recent study from the University of Virginia, 26% of patients visiting the ER claimed their complaint was something easily able to be treated in a doctor’s office, while another 9% stated that the ER was their only source of medical care. An additional 30%, not knowing whether they needed the ER or not, would have chosen their primary physician if they had consulted with him or her before choosing the ER. Once trust is built, education is provided, and encouragement is extended from primary care providers to their patients, each individual’s understanding of health will improve and better treatment and continuity will be provided, changing the culture of health care delivery and directly alleviating the high costs of our burdened system.
The changes in the individual and the changes in the culture of the community need to occur in parallel with each other, as they are complimentary and reinforce each other. As more diabetics begin to eat more vegetables, then the community will slowly respond by predominating more vegetables. The development of knowledge and will in an individual, and the mindset that each patient is capable of contributing to his or her well-being along with society’s well-being, go hand in hand with the profound changes of culture reflecting the interactions between these patients and their physician.