Sometimes it feels that we are enveloped by a sea of uncertainty as far as healthcare goes as the tides of leadership are changing in the midst of this hot topic issue. We have more Americans with health insurance than ever before in history, while at the same time though, the number of people living with chronic disease is at an all time high.
Witnessing this phenomenon as a family medicine resident prompted me to dig deeper into what some of the missing links may be between our current health care system and better health outcomes. I realized the problem is just that, we have all the pieces, but they are often “unlinked” so to speak. The solution then is that we need to take action to bring the various components together to create a truly whole system. The thing about health is that it is both deeply personal and dynamic, and although large-scale change is needed, trying to create a cookie-cutter plan that works for everyone from the top down will never give the timely, impressive results that are already within our reach if we start as individuals integrating health into our daily lives.
The following is a guide assimilated both from my perspective as a practicing primary care physician and as a healthcare consumer, that can help you create ideal integrated health care NOW, because we simply can’t afford to wait.
#One: You Are the Captain
The most important step of integrated health is realizing that you, in fact, are the one in charge. In any matter pertaining to your health, you have the most to lose or the most to gain. Your doctor and health care team are there to guide you based on their knowledge, but you are the only one who can put the advice into practice day to day.
#Two: Identify Your Goals
Doctors and health care institutions collect higher reimbursements if they are able to record that certain health goals were met such as giving flu shots, having patients on certain medications, getting screening tests done or for addressing “high risk” health issues. These may not, however, describe your personal current or long-term, health agenda. The first step to getting the achieving your desired state of health is to be clear, and specific, about what you want.
#Three: Build Your Care Team
“Primary care” serves several purposes including keeping you healthy by helping you foresee and prevent potential disease, acting as a trusted information source, and being the first place you turn should you get sick. It is therefore important to find people who communicate well and are on the same page as you. Healthcare providers come with different personalities, backgrounds, practice styles and areas of expertise; it is perfectly acceptable to have several different practitioners working together on your team and ask your provider to share their records with other people on your team to share progress and ideas while working toward your common goal.
#Four: Target Causes, not Symptoms
In our culture of instant gratification there is a tendency to want similar results in the realm of health; don’t fall for this. A symptom is your body’s way of telling you that something is out of balance, and simply covering a symptom with a pill can result in ongoing damage and long-term consequences. This can be an unfortunate repercussion of a medical system laced with short appointment times and pharmaceutical influence. Be up front with your physician that you are not interested in short term fixes and if they do not personally have the background to help you unravel the underlying culprit and develop a treatment plan starting there, find someone who will.
#Five: Focus on Mind & Body
Research shows that the health of the mind significantly impacts the body, and vice versa. Similar to the relationship between the hardware and software of a computer system, both need to be well maintained to have an optimally functional machine. Indeed stress is a major culprit behind illnesses ranging from diabetes to cancer, and if you are experiencing physical symptoms adding a mindfulness or psychological component to your care plan is important.
#Six: Don’t Forget Your Spiritual Side
People feel best when they are living in harmony with their values. Setting aside some time either daily or weekly to do something that replenishes you spiritually can help tremendously with motivation. In our fast-paced culture it is easy to get caught up in the rat race and losing focus on what is really important to us can make it harder to care for ourselves well.
#Seven: Sync Up With Nature
As human beings we have intrinsic rhythms and cycles, regulated by neurons and hormones, which move similarly to those of nature. With the era of electricity, grocery stores, internet, and shift work, it is easy for us to get disconnected from the nature around us, which makes it harder for us to listen to our body’s natural cues. Taking a gentle, daily, 20-minute walk, outside, while focusing on the world around you rather than the stream of thoughts inside your mind, has been shown to positively impact your sense of well-being and overall health.
#Eight: Food is Medicine
Remember that our first and foremost source of medicine is the nutrients and building blocks we choose to put into our bodies in the form of food. There is simply no substitute for the healing we can achieve though the way we eat. As the leader of your integrative health team, make sure this age-old knowledge is incorporated into your plan.
#Nine: Keep a Record
Make the most of each visit with your healthcare provider by coming with an agenda, and leaving with an action plan. Write down your questions and what you hope to accomplish ahead of time and share these with your provider at the beginning of your visit. Depending on the length, you may not get to everything in one visit, but you can work together to identify the most important, and address the others at a later time. For each thing you address, write down your treatment plan, the time frame you should check in again to re-evaluate, and anything that should prompt you to check in sooner.
Dr. Kayla Luhrs is a board certified family physician and registered yoga teacher. She has a private practice in NE Portland at the Everett House and Healing Center. Find her here for more information: http://www.wholelifemedicine.org/