A trend toward patient-driven health care

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By Eric Nelson | norcalcs.org | Twitter

PETALUMA, CA, July 14, 2014 – Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical doctor and former chief health policy advisor to President Obama, has a pretty good idea of what we can expect to see in health care over the next decade – things like the end of insurance companies as we know them, an increased focus on treating the chronically and mentally ill, the emergence of digital medicine and the transformation of medical education. As he summarized it during a talk last month at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, we should expect nothing less than “the restructuring of our system from a sick care system to a health care system.”

This is pretty encouraging news. But something Emanuel neglected to mention was that it’s not just our nation’s health care system that’s changing, but the patients who utilize this system as well.

An especially interesting trend along these lines is what Dr. Margaret Chesney, head of U.C. San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, describes as patient-driven health care. “Not just patient-centered,” she emphasized during a visit to her office last year, “but patient-driven.”

“We try to find out what our patients want and help them make an informed decision,” said Chesney. “Once they’ve decided what they want, our job is to provide the pieces that they need and that we feel comfortable with.”

There are times, however, when what patients need and what they’re looking for extends beyond any combination of therapies to a new way of seeing themselves, recognizing that, for instance, the search for the sacred in their lives can contribute significantly to their mental and physical health.

Chesney cites just one example of this in one of her studies where a researcher from the University of Miami in Florida found that those who consciously turned to God as a result of a life-threatening diagnosis experienced significant and measurable physiological improvement when compared to those who, as a result of the same diagnosis, disavowed any spiritual connection.

Although perhaps new to the world of modern-day medicine, this particular brand of patient-driven health has actually been around for years. As far back as the late 19th century, Mary Baker Eddy, a medical maverick in her own right, recognized the importance of patient participation. “Give sick people credit for sometimes knowing more than their doctors,” she says in her book, Science and Health. “Always support their trust in the power of [the divine] Mind to sustain the body.”

How quickly this trend will catch on and how effective it might be in terms of revolutionizing our nation’s health care system remains to be seen. What is certain is that those who are involved in this restructuring effort would do well to consider, if not accommodate, the public’s inevitable shift from a largely drug- and surgery-based approach to health to one that incorporates a more spiritual foundation for mental and physical well-being. Then and only then will we have achieved the oft-lauded goal of true health care reform.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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