By Kriston J. Kent, M.D., MPH
America’s Health (Care) Crisis (and your own Health):
Is “An Ounce of Prevention” the Only Real Solution?
As we approach the end of 2014, Two things remains constant: 1) Americans quality of life (Health span) continues to worsen and 2) Healthcare costs are spiraling out-of-control. Furthermore, almost every attempt by the government, employers, and insurance entities (the modern healthcare system) are failing to improve either. The current medical system in the West is excellent at addressing medical emergencies and sudden medical crises like heart attacks and strokes. However, treatment of the underlying causes, with the goal of prevention and reversal of most chronic diseases, paints a very different picture. Health care costs and reimbursements are driven largely by the prescription of increasing amounts of medications and the use of expensive medical procedures, neither of which generally reverse the chronic disease process or prevent further disease complications well. This is due to the fact that most currently used medications and medical procedures are designed to treat the symptoms of the chronic disease much more than treating the cause of the specific disease. I would like to suggest that there is a much simpler and inexpensive way to add Years to Our Life, and more importantly, Life to Our Years!
In contrast to the bleak picture above of ever spiraling chronic diseases (heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, eye diseases, and bone/joint diseases), and the unsustainable burden of treating the symptoms of these diseases, there is a way to address the American health crisis. I humbly suggest that actually addressing the causes of these diseases, and basing more of the reimbursements on prevention and reversal of the causes of these diseases, could dramatically reduce health care costs and improve all Americans’ life and health. A large body of evidence exists in the medical and public health literature to confirm that a relatively small number of health habits can dramatically affect our health and well-being. In fact, less than 20% of our health conditions are believed to be solely determined by our genes. On the other hand, it is believed that as much is 80%-90% of cardiovascular disease is determined ultimately by lifestyle and health habits. Likewise, recent studies show approximately 60% of cancers are related to lifestyle and health habits. These are only a few examples of how powerful our lifestyle, health habits, and health choices impact our health as we age.
It is very likely, in the short run, that the forces that drive the American healthcare system will not change quickly to lower costs, and improve outcomes, by rewarding prevention and reversal of disease. However, why should we place our health and our well-being in the hands of someone else? Certainly, everyone needs a good traditional physician when they catch the flu, are involved in an accident, or develop a health crisis. However, unless we simply enjoy developing chronic illness, visiting a myriad of specialty physicians, and trying to pay increasing healthcare premiums and medication cost, we must take ownership of our own health and improve our health habits. Many of the needed lifestyle changes are relatively simple changes, but changing our habits is often anything but simple. Fortunately, a new medical specialty is evolving which is based on helping each individual to become aware of lifestyle habits which are dangerous to their future health and, more importantly, provide crucial health coaching to guide their patients to develop health habits which will lead to avoidance of most common chronic diseases so prevalent in America. Imagine spending most of our lifetime free from the increasing “need” for medication and without the frequent need for doctor’s visits and procedures.
Lifestyle medicine’s time has come. Thomas Edison once said that “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease”. It is just as true today, as it has always been, that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. In our case, a few ounces of prevention may be worth billions of dollars’ worth of “cure”. And more important than that, prevention and reversal of disease lies more in our own control, than in being totally dependent upon a healthcare professional to do it for us. The fantastic news is that with the assistance of the right health coaches (lifestyle medicine physicians, nutritionists, fitness professionals, health behaviorist), we have the power to control our own health destiny and likely avoid the modern American “curse” of premature declining health and wellbeing and ultimately, premature death.
Kriston J. Kent, M.D., MPH is a Lifestyle/preventative medicine physician in private practice in Naples, Florida. He is the owner and medical director of The Kent Center for LIFE
Kent Center for Life
840 111th Avenue North, Suite 9, Naples, FL 34108
(239) 514.7888 | tkclife.com