Redefining our healthcare conversations
Dr. Google tells you that the most commonly used definition of the word "health" refers to "a state of complete emotional and physical well-being and that healthcare exists to help maintain this optimal state of health.” Yet, we are not a society of wellness; we are a society who attempt to manage our daily symptoms. In a world where, for the majority, day-to-day life can be fragile, illness limits our choices and disease creates desperation.
According to Google, we searched for symptom-related answers 200 billion times in 2018, 86 percent of which were following a diagnosis. Forty thousand more online queries will have happened by the time you finish this sentence.
So, let me ask you this: If there is more money to be made from illness, why would our economic powers that be, give health a chance?
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION
Healthcare conversations seem to be dominated by the topic of cost, from insurance premiums to the costs of medicines, which in turn denies access to medicines – this alongside the fact that more and more people are becoming ill; today it is estimated that globally, one in four of us live with multiple chronic conditions. Many of these conditions are attributed to smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and inadequate relief from chronic stress – “poor lifestyle choices.”
When illness is only spoken of in purely fiscal terms, we miss the true realities. We miss the trauma, the devastation of diagnosis, the changing roles of the family whether that be a loss of livelihood or children taking on the role of caregiver, and the fact that many chronic conditions can be prevented.
We are not questioning why this only seems to be a healthcare system conversation. Why is it not a health conversation, a societal conversation? Why is the healthcare system not standing alongside the health advocates and demanding change… Or do they have no real incentives to change?
So, we continue to not really understand what it means to be healthy. We continue to just throw mud at the wall and see what sticks without understanding the impact of new technologies. In other words, sick-care will not make us healthy.
INNOVATION IS NOT THE (ONLY) ANSWER
Often when we talk about the future of healthcare, we talk about new technologies, like 3D-printed organs, gene sequencing, and robotic surgery. Futurist and fellow THNKer Michell Zappa created a speculative visualization which considered which individual technologies are likely to affect healthin the coming decades.
While innovation and technology is the ultimate democratizing force in our society – raising lowest common denominators by reducing costs and connecting people across the world – it is only part of the conversation, because technology and innovation will happen no matter what.
Former Chief Design Officer of Phillips Healthcare Grant Davidson, who is now a Program Director at THNK, says, “Some of the stuff that’s happening in research labs are just mindblowing, all the way down to a molecular level. I have total trust that we take care of the technology. This is about taking care of the humanity and the experience.”
At this year’s eyeforpharma Barcelona, Allergan CEO Brent Saunders said, “We have the technology to cure lung cancer, but we don’t have the right incentives to stop people smoking.”
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
History stops us feeling disorientated; it teaches us patterns which help us understand.
In the case of our societies’ health history; it was Sir Richard Doll, a British epidemiologist, who linked smoking to illness by recording the deaths of doctors who smoked cigarettes and pipes.
His work not only prevented millions of deaths and paved the way for the smoke-free laws in place globally, but it also changed the way that tobacco could be sold to us. His work highlighted to me the wider tensions between the systems; the selling of illness, and the bandaid approach to health.
History also helps us navigate the future, and changes are being called for. In November 2018, the EU Health Summit Coalition called for the European Commission to appoint a Vice President for health to ensure effective coordination and leadership at a high level.
We need to see change in order to make change.
GOING BACK TO BASICS
At Person Before Patient, we are going back to basics! We are finding novel ways to enable true understanding that health is our most essential asset, individually, economically, and environmentally – driven from a belief that to be healthy is a fundamental part of our human rights and of a life in dignity; that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
Health is not just about the absence of physical symptoms and the wellness of our mind and emotions – it’s more complex than that. We also advocate for the right to be healthy socially, economically, and environmentally.
It’s true that not everyone wishes to be a health activist, so we are creating a supportive environment for everyone to become a health advocate: access to credible, non-polarized information and space to explore what our health means to us, enabling a central conversation, a societal conversation – not just a healthcare system conversation!