The Future of Medicine

What do a detective, meteorologist and doctor have in common? No, its not a joke. I don’t have a clever punch line… But I’ve been thinking, maybe these three career paths should have a little more in common than they do today. I’ll explain…

Today a trip to the doctor’s office can be pretty routine. You have X,  so you take Y to fix it. The doctor writes a prescription and we’re on our way. Whatever X was may have gone away, but in the end we’re none the wiser as to what went wrong in the first place. All we’ve done is played the name it, blame it, tame it game, as Dr. Mark Hyman, functional medicine physician, puts it. The way we look at healthcare today is in terms of treating disease. And as long as we’re taking that approach we’ll never get the upper hand. It’s time for a shift in perspective. And that shift is to a place where the practice of medicine is about creating health instead of fighting disease. So let’s go back to that doctor’s office and try again… but this time what if the doc asks, “what happened to make you need Y in the first place?”

Now the doctor is like the detective. He’s asking questions and doing tests to figure out what’s creating an imbalance. There are seven systems in the body working together to keep us going. Nothing is separate of the whole; everything is connected and constantly changing. Yet when we have a headache we’re referred to one specialist and when we have a tummy ache we’re referred to another. But what if the headache is caused by a problem in the gut? You’d never know. You have to look at the whole thing and understand how the systems work together, what causes imbalance and what creates balance.

With this approach to health the name of a disease is irrelevant. A disease is just a name we’ve made up to classify a specific set of symptoms. It doesn’t really tell us what is wrong with us. The symptoms are clues of something much larger (think Dr. House). To figure that out, doctors have got to start asking the big question: Why? To those who want to stop here and say doctors don’t have time to retrace your medical history, I say: Perhaps they should. And maybe if they did our medical system would be a very different kind of beast then it is today.

But what I’m talking about here goes beyond arguing about the best use of a doctor’s time. This is really about how we are missing the mark all together. The way we treat disease now is you either have it or you don’t. But disease doesn’t just come on overnight. Our bodies are ecosystems and the environment is constantly changing in the same way the environment on earth is constantly changing. Winds shift, storms brew, species evolve. Same goes for the workings of our bodies. So treating them should be about determining what in our bodies created the perfect storm. The doctor turns meteorologist.  Medicine should be about trying to understanding the ecosystem and working with it to create balance. Because when we’re balanced it’s harder for the little things we come in contact with to knock us over. That is the future of medicine: detective, meteorologist and doctor all in one. And we’ll have much healthier and happier people as a result.

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