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As Canadians, we are blessed to have access to one of the best Health Care Systems in the world; a Health Care System with constantly evolving technologies to assist us with our various health concerns.
As a result of government assistance in Canada, we enjoy a universally funded health care system. This has had a profound impact on the health of our society and mostly in a positive way. However, one of the negative effects of this system is that patients are less willing to pay for out of pocket expenses that are not covered by the universally funded system, than those patients in other parts of the world.
In Canada, certain visits including the vast majority of physician visits, laboratory work, radiological/special test investigations and some medications are rightfully supported and funded by the system. Other appointments such as chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage, osteopathy, chiropody, naturopathy and other therapies are not covered by the universally funded health care system.
Our Current Health Care Paradigm: Sick Care or Reactive Health Care
This ultimately changes the psychology of many individuals seeking health care assistance, by allowing the individual to feel that only those services covered within the system are important and that they need not pay for other health care services not covered by the system. Many Canadians are under the belief or understanding that if it is NOT funded by the government, then that the treatment modality must NOT be important or necessary regardless of what their physician or health care provider may have recommended as a treatment.
Therefore in the long run, what this creates is a system where individuals save or spend very little money on their Preventative Health Care Needs. As a result, they rely mainly on the Reactive Health Care Model for their treatments. This system revolves around the physicians, specialists, laboratory tests and medications prescribed.
Many physicians leave medical school and enter into their respective practices looking forward to helping and treating patients with health issues whether it is an illness, a medical emergency, or other serious health condition. However, when speaking to many physicians, what we learn is that many physicians feel that they are dealing with more than just the medical scenarios listed above. We find that many physicians are treating a lot more of their patients underlying social, mental, and emotional crises along with chronic repetitive strains and postures; and that in fact it was these factors that were resulting in their patient’s physical ailments and health conditions. Often times these physicians realize that the physical, social, mental, chemical, nutritional, and emotional stresses have been built up cumulatively in the body over time, and that these cumulative stressors have led to the illnesses that they were treating in the first place.
We Require a Paradigm Shift into a Wellness Care or Proactive Health Care Model
What is required is a paradigm shift in our Health Care System; from our current Sickness-Reactive Care Model to one that also includes a Wellness-Preventative Health Care Model. The current system is set up best to treat and assist those with pain, illness or sickness. That is, it is designed to assist patients when they have already reached a point where their body’s defense mechanisms can no longer withstand the stresses being placed on it and thus the symptoms associated with their condition, examples intense back pain, herniated discs, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid issues, etc. begin to affect their quality of life.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
“Health is the optimal functioning of your body, mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually, and not merely the absence of sickness or disease.”
This is an important statement; that is, it is clearly defined as NOT just the absence of sickness or disease.
Health is a Spectrum; that is, a continuum where you are constantly in a state of flux between two ends of a scale. The 2 ends of the scale being Complete Health and the opposing end of the spectrum which would be Sickness, Disease, and eventually Death.
If individuals require a major sign or wait for sickness or disease to display itself with an outward symptom as their main indicator of their overall level of health, they will most likely be on their way to sickness and getting further from the Optimally Healthy end of the spectrum. That is because in today’s hectic society one needs to be proactive and actively pursue an ideal level of health, otherwise our chronic lifestyle patterns lead us closer to the Extremely Poor Health end of the spectrum.
What is the Insidious Onset of symptoms?
Today we understand that subtle changes can occur constantly within the body and its various systems. These subtle changes can either bring us closer to an optimal healthy state or they can take us further away from optimal health and closer to illness, injury, and disease. If these subtle changes have a negative impact on the body and are not addressed properly, they will then incur a slow cumulative negative effect on your overall health. These cumulative effects normally do not start to present as a condition or illness immediately, thus we do not experience an outward manifestation of the condition through its early phase as the condition develops. Therefore, we feel that we are in a healthy state when we may actually be approaching the other end of the spectrum which is closer to injury, illness, and disease.
These subtle changes and stressors slowly break down the body’s natural defense mechanisms (Innate Intelligence); our inability to cope with the constant strain or stress then eventually leads to symptoms that as mentioned earlier, do not occur immediately but present themselves over a prolonged period of time with more of an Insidious Onset of symptoms, thus creating havoc in the patients’ lives.
This insidious onset of symptoms causes confusion to individuals who work under the Reactive or Sickness Health Care Paradigm. That is because they often want to understand their symptoms within a cause and effect model of when the pain began; that is, something had to have occurred temporally at the same time for their symptoms to have begun and in the absence of this they often get frustrated and give up on alternate therapies if the pain or symptoms are not resolved immediately; and because many of these services are not covered under the healthcare system, they are often neglected and deemed as not as important to their health and healing by the patients.
Often times, the subtle changes or stresses are lifestyle habits, emotional tendencies, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, prolonged postures and repetitive activities that lead individuals down a path of not feeling well and therefore begin to fall into Dis-ease. Over time, these lifestyle stressors start to tax the natural defense mechanisms of the body which will then always lead to illness, injury, or disease in the future.
For example, going to work in an office where an individual performs prolonged seated postures for 6-8 hours a day may seem innocuous to most people; they normally don’t feel any discomfort with their office activities. However, they often perform these tasks and postures daily for hours at a time, multiple days a week, continuously throughout the year for many years. Thus it is during this time frame that you will NOT be experiencing symptoms, but underneath the surface, the stresses and strains continue building up in the body. These stressors need to be addressed to avoid further aggravation but it is often at this stage that most people just allow the pattern to continue due to a lack of symptoms. This is because as long as there are no symptoms of pain or discomfort, many believe they are perfectly healthy and therefore feel as if they are not doing any damage to their bodies or their overall health, which is a huge misconception.
Addressing symptoms early on
If these individuals continue down this path without addressing their health by trying to improve it as opposed to waiting for a symptom to arise before addressing it, what they find is that insidiously, years later, small aches and pains begin to arise that gradually get worse and worse until there is a full blown condition with the symptoms including pain and inflammation. Many individuals begin to scratch their heads and try and think back a day or 2 and look for that temporally related cause to their pain, asking ‘what they could possibly have done that caused the pain’, often times finding that they can’t recall doing anything more strenuous than usual that would have injured them. They seldom even consider that the years of chronic strain and stress led to these tissue failures, ultimately leading to the symptoms of pain and inflammation. Many also fail to realize that by being proactive with the focus on prevention that the symptoms and condition may not have developed in the first place.
These situations make up the majority of musculoskeletal complaints, so the answer is not in just treating the symptoms of muscle tightness, inflammation, or pain with a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, or pain killer, but to understand how and why this has occurred in the first place to get to the root cause. If we choose to wait for the symptoms to appear before we try to make the changes necessary to avoid chronic pain, the best possible outcome will then be constant medications or rehabilitation therapies which can be costly and intensive, and if the damage is too great, these therapies may only offer temporary relief and surgery may be necessary.
The goal of the Health Care system should not be in waiting for these conditions to present themselves and react to them because this method has only led to increased healthcare costs. The goal should be in educating people on being aware of the warning signs in advance so that they can be proactive in their health care through a Wellness Program to assist the body in avoiding the muscle tightness, inflammation, pain, disease or illness in the first place. It is also very important to note that if your body is experiencing tightness, inflammation, and pain; that those symptoms will also have a profound effect on the way your body perceives and receives information from its environment thus leading to chronic pain patterns and increased secretion of hormones related to stress such as Cortisol. Overproduction of Cortisol has a further negative impact on your overall health which then leads to a viscous spiral down the Un-Healthy or Sick end of the Health Spectrum.
The concept of proactive preventative health care is not new
Truly, there is only one health profession that can proudly say that they have educated the public about the importance of prevention and have totally convinced their patients about its importance. That would be Dentistry.
Most children are taught at a very early age about the importance of taking care of their teeth; that brushing your teeth and flossing your gums is not designed to Treat cavities or gum disease, but rather to Prevent cavities or gum disease from occurring. This is not lost on parents who understand that it is far easier and cost effective to teach their children to floss and brush as opposed to waiting for a cavity or gum disease to occur, and then being responsible for paying the costs of repairing the damage.
We need to apply the same importance to our Bodies and Spine that we do to our teeth, considering that our body and spine are far more important to our overall health than our teeth; and with today’s technology, teeth can be replaced but unfortunately that is not the same situation for our spine and our body’s.
So it is important to learn to be Proactive to prevent future illness, injury, and disease which is actual Health Care or Wellness Care as opposed to being reactive by waiting for symptoms to appear before taking action, which is defined as Sick Care. Health Care should be Proactive and Preventative and should work on improving and caring for your health to avoid future illness, injury and disease through Eating Right, Thinking Right, and Moving Right. Sick Care or Reactive Health Care treats the illness, injury, or disease or their related symptoms.
So what are Symptoms?
A symptom is a warning signal or a fire alarm going off in the body. What that means is that the fire has already begun and may actually have been burning for some time. It is a manifestation of something already functioning poorly within the body. So when a fire alarm is set off in real life situations, we normally don’t treat the fire alarm; that is, in a fire situation we don’t axe the fire alarm, we go after the fire or its root cause. This is how we need to begin treating Health Care and our bodies.
So the body sets off these symptoms or fire alarms which can present as low back pain, digestive issues, menstrual issues, high or low blood pressure, hormone imbalances, pain, emotional disturbances, etc. These are all examples of fire alarms going off in your body but what it also means is that the fire has already started and something is wrong in the body; and with the exception of an acute injury, it may also indicate that a fire may have been burning for a prolonged period of time. The issue is that your body may have had to go from 100% of its function of an organ, cell, or tissue to 60% function to begin experiencing the symptoms; so you may already have up to 40% damage or disease to that part of the body before you even begin experiencing a symptom, and that is why many individuals begin to feel the manifestation of a warning signal or symptom that begins insidiously.
Faster Results do neat mean better results
In today’s fast paced society we want instant results, since we don’t have time to stop to address our stress and pain. So what is normally the first thing that we do when we experience a symptom? That’s right, we take a medication because it’s easy and it does give relatively instant relief from the various symptoms.
What medications are able to do is amazing but they only mask the symptoms or the warning signal, however the cause or condition is still there smoldering below the surface. Ultimately you did not address the fire but instead decided to address the fire alarm; it would be like taking the axe to the fire alarm or taping over the speaker of the fire alarm instead of putting out the fire. What this means is, that the fire can start up at any time again and thus symptoms can return, and this is where many individuals get stuck in a pattern of chronic recurrent pain conditions.
Medications work wonders, but they’re effects may become diminished as you continue to take the medication which may lead to higher dosages or new prescriptions. Also, many times there are often side effects or complications with taking medications, especially if taken for a prolonged period of time. So while we continue to deal with the fire alarm, the fire is still burning and begins causing other fires in other parts of the body leading to new symptoms or fire alarms being set off. This is where many individuals get stuck in a vicious cycle of requiring more medications, chronic pain, and possibly even surgery; and if the fire is not addressed, we know over time that the building will eventually fall.
So our health care system is really set up best for emergency care, and when it comes to emergency care we have it down to an art with helping those in crisis situations with the assistance of first aid, medications, and emergency surgeries.
However, going back to the fire analogy, if there were a fire and the firefighters were called in and saved the day by chopping down the doors, blowing out the windows, and spraying down the entire building:
- Would you call them the next day and use the same firefighters to rebuild your house?
- Before the fire would you have used the fire department to properly build and maintain the house had no fire occurred in the first place?
This is the difference between Health Care and Sick Care.
We definitely require the brave firefighters to continue to battle the blazes and save lives, but we also need them to step aside when things are not in a crisis situation. We require the architects, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and engineers to build or repair the buildings and make them safe and function properly in the hopes of preventing any future blazes.
Address the cause of illness, not the symptoms
The issue with attacking the symptoms is that the initial cause is neglected and thus Chronic Pain episodes become the norm. The last thing society needs is someone who entered a doctor’s office with uncomplicated mechanical low back pain and now is an opiate addict addicted to a strong pain killer. We cannot substitute one condition, such as low back pain, with another condition known as addiction.
The current health care model normally seeks out a Patho-anatomical defect, that is, something that is grossly different in appearance or measurement that is visible or quantifiable through palpation, special imaging, or laboratory tests.
But we all know that at one point in our lives, we had gone to a doctor with a symptom of pain or discomfort only to be told that the tests came up negative and that they presented as normal on imaging.
How many people have gone to a doctor with intense low back pain and following the x-rays, CT Scans, or MRI’s they were told that all tests came up negative; nothing showed up on the tests and thus they were informed that they had inflammation of their low back and instructed to take an anti-inflammatory? This will be an effective way to assist with the inflammation, however, Inflammation is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom, and in the absence of any gross patho-anatomical changes, the symptom now becomes the diagnosis. But the real question should have always been, what is causing the inflammation and how did this process begin?
How many people have gone to their doctor’s for a routine physical examination and were told they were healthy and normal, only to experience a heart attack within weeks of the visit? More than often, the individuals will state how nothing has changed in their life over the past few weeks since their doctor’s visit, and thus can’t understand how this came to be when they were given a clean bill of health just week’s earlier. When you do not focus on your overall health but instead focus on the lack of sickness and symptoms; or if you require a quantifiable measurement such as a symptom or a test to determine your health as the main gauge of your overall level of health, you will often miss the fact that you have not been well and were actually sliding down the scale of health and sickness.
Basing your level of health solely on symptoms of how you feel or how you look will more than often lead you down a path to sickness, since you may be looking at the wrong indicators for your health and failing to focus on your overall lifestyle habits. As defined by the World Health Organization, overall health clearly includes elements of our health care which are not measureable such as mental, social, and spiritual well-being which can drastically affect how your body senses the environment, how you react to that environment, and how your own personal neurology begins to function.
The Wellness Care Model vs. The Sickness Care Model
So the Wellness Care Model understands that our job is to treat the painful condition and make symptoms feel better, but we also want to bring you on the journey to becoming not only pain free, but Healthier. What I am interested in is in you being as healthy an individual as you can be.
Unfortunately, our current healthcare system currently works under the model of Sickness Care. The biggest contradiction in our culture today is calling our current system Health Care, the modern system is not health care but it is in fact sick care. It is more specialized in getting you better after you have experienced an illness as opposed to preventing the illness from occurring by being proactive. So then when you take a sick care model and provide it to a culture like health care, what you will ultimately end up with unfortunately, is a sick culture.
That is why individuals and governments spend millions, billions, and trillions of dollars each year on what we call health care; and still we have an incredibly sick culture and what’s even more alarming is that our youth are only getting sicker as well.
If you visited your physician and they asked what brought you in to the office that day, and you replied ‘I’m perfectly fine but I want to feel even healthier and better,’ they would give you a befuddled look as to why you were in their office that day. That is because the Sick Care system is designed to help those that are sick and not those that are striving for optimal health when not sick.
Follow my next blog to find out how to increase your overall level of health with a Wellness Care Program.