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Harvard Medical School Misses the Point

HarvardHealth Article Unintentionally Highlights the Problems with Modern Healthcare!

Today in the Harvard Health Blog from Harvard Medical School, an article was posted entitled “Doctor groups list top overused, misused tests, treatments and procedures“.  This sounds like a great thing to do — find those tests and treatments in the system that are overused or misused.  This can only help, right?  But what’s the underlying cause of this?  The answer reveals the intent of the research, which is to reduce and eliminate treatments to reduce medical costs.  No doubt there’s a need to review, revise and eliminate many practices, but let me provide an excerpt from the article to set the context of the problem:

“Take an exercise stress test as an example.  It involves walking on a treadmill while monitors record the heart rate, heart rhythm, and blood pressure.  It’s a useful test for people who have symptoms that might indicate heart disease, like chest pain when they are active or under stress.  But as with many tests, it isn’t useful just to ‘check under the hood’ in people who feel fine.” 

This highlights the problem of focus in modern medicine.  Doctors are focused on reactive treatments for existing conditions, and not on proactive health plans to avoid problems to begin with.  With an increasing focus on reducing healthcare costs, doctors will become even more reactive, instead of doing what they should to truly reduce costs and improve health — develop proactive, long-term plans for their patients.  Using the heart stress test as an example, you won’t have the opportunity to take the test until you’re already showing significant symptoms of heart problems.  Why not try and avoid those problems in the first place?

Proactive healthcare could be easily achieved.  Annual physicals could be given to patients that include blood tests, scans, and stress tests that not only provide detailed and accurate information, but could also be compared year-over-year to find potential areas of negatively affected health.  Furthermore, doctors need to be more aggressive in recommending and monitoring strategies for optimal health.  Here are what I consider to be the Big 4 (in order of importance) to health, most of which are not handled well by modern medicine:

1.  Diet – The percentage of overweight Americans in encroaching territory that makes the movie Wall-E look like a documentary, and clinically obese Americans are now 40% of the population according to several studies.  The simple overconsumption of food is burdening our healthcare system beyond belief.  Not only are we overeating, we are eating foods loaded with chlorine dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, and a processed amalgamation of synthetic preservatives, additives and sweeteners.  A proactive diet can change your life, and I’m living proof of that.  Doctors will prescribe medicine for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.  They do a horrible job of having honest conversations about eating, and particularly about offering effective strategies for results.

2.  Sleep – Your body needs good sleep for everything from digestion, hormone distribution, and mental health.  Poor sleep, sleep apnea, and a lack of REM sleep are contributing to poor physical and mental health.  Body fat affects sleep and breathing, so the bigger you get, the more likely you will develop problems with sleep.  A lack of good sleep will result in a likelihood to gain more weight.  This vicious cycle is hard to break, and should be handled from two angles: 1) Start a proper healthy eating plan; and 2) Go to your ENT doctor and get a sleep study if you snore heavily, may have sleep apnea, or are having trouble sleeping.  At one point, I went to my doctor with extreme fatigue (falling asleep while driving in the middle of the day) and depression for no apparent reason.  He prescribed me anti-depressants.  It was on my own that I discovered I had a severely deviated septum (which required surgery) and severe sleep apnea.  Getting a simple breathing machine and having the surgery completely changed my life.  I completely eliminated both the fatigue and the depression within four days of using the breathing machine when I slept.

3.  Biology – I’m sure you’ve had a workup and blood test from your doctor to check on your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and in some cases the functioning of your liver and kidneys.  Great!  That information is critical to optimal health.  What doctors often fail to check are areas that can help prevent many future problems from arising such as hormones.  What are your testosterone and estrogen levels (yes, men and women have both!)?  Low testosterone in men can lead to everything from depression and low energy, to increased risk for disease.  And hormone levels in women may provide insight into the same risks, as well as autoimmune issues.  Getting a complete picture of your health is critical.  Instead of prescribing medication to lower your bad cholesterol, there should be a focus on not letting it get there in the first place.

4.  Exercise – The Livtastic Health plan makes a clear distinction between exercise and activity.  Activity is the act of doing things that you like to do, as well as just getting around in the day.  If you like to ride your bike, then ride your bike — that’s activity.  Exercise is a specific physical process with a specific purpose and goal.  First, you should determine your health goals, and then engage in specific and targeted exercises to achieve those goals.  This will eliminate a lot of wasted time in doing things that are not really focused toward a particular goal.  Do you want to increase your muscle mass or definition, increase your cardio, eliminate your back pain, or run faster or jump higher?  By developing key exercise goals, simple and targeted exercises can help you achieve them.  Your goals should also be realistic.  Do I want six pack abs?  Of course.  Do I want them bad enough to do the extra work to lower my body fat percentage to 6-8%?  Probably not.  Getting healthy is much easier than most people think, but top conditioning takes top performance techniques and behaviors that you may not be willing to sustain long term.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

Everything in my life that has resulted in substantiative changes to my health I discovered on my own!  Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the medical professionals to provide you with a proactive health plan — the system is just not set up that way!  Find people around you that have achieved their goals or who live healthy lifestyles and ask them what they’re doing.  Read articles on the internet about healthy foods and healthy eating.  Most importantly, take control.  Demand from your doctor what tests you would like to take and what information you would like to see, and work with your doctor to develop a balanced approach to your health.  If the tests or numbers don’t make sense to you, ask what they mean!  Modern medicine is great for many things, and you certainly cannot discard any current health issues you may have and the impact they will have on any diet or exercise plan that you do.

The secret lies in finding a plan that will provide the greatest results for the least amount of effort involved.  A simple plan will be easy to follow and adhere to, and will also be easiest to maintain long-term.  Can an insanely intense DVD program give you ripped abs in 90 days?  Maybe.  Are you willing to do an insanely difficult workout six days a week for the rest of your life to maintain them?  Probably not.  Can crash dieting help you lose weight fast?  Yes.  Is it healthy for you?  No, and the results likely will not only not last, you are likely to ‘rebound’ to a heavier weight than before.  Simply stated, you need to proactively find a healthy, sustainable, and easy to follow plan for your overall health.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain.  Don’t let Harvard scholars or your doctor intimidate you, and don’t succumb to following the behaviors of the majority of your peers.  Both are fatal mistakes.  What is good to sustain a massive number of people is not necessarily good for the individual.  Discover what’s best for you!