Thursday, February 2, 2023
Could Natural Medicine Save the Health Care System?
Plausibly yes. The fact is that with TCM in particular we have a massive data base of thousands of plants with biological indications data.
Applying scientific method to all that could be well be the outright salvation of medical research. It is also cheap and easily handled with the university infrastructure it self. Winners then are simply a rare bonus with multiple solutions produced to tailor to the need.
The good news is that the process is now well underway. Nothing like thousands of grad students out looking for prospective targets to hone their lab skills with. The low lying fruit is already been tackled and the rest will follow. Chronic interferance from funding has now disappated.
Could Natural Medicine Save the Health Care System?
The United States suffers from the highest health care costs in the world—with little to show for it
Jan 26 2023
Looking for a bargain? You won’t find it in health care. Particularly in the United States, where Americans spend more each year, but somehow have less to show for it.
According to a report from the Commonwealth Fund in early 2020, the United States spent nearly twice as much on health care as other wealthy nations (Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada). Despite this high price tag, the United States saw the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among these countries.
The United States also suffers the highest chronic disease burden, with an obesity rate two times higher than the average in other peer countries. This may explain why Americans saw the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes, and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.
Dollar for dollar, the United States has the worst health care system in the world. The government spends more taxpayer dollars per capita than any other country in the world, including countries with entirely public health care systems known for exceptional quality of care. On top of those taxpayer dollars, American’s also spend more per capita of their own money than the citizens of any other country in the world except for Sweden, according to the latest analysis from Statistica.
So where’s all the money going to support these lousy outcomes? A lot is spent on drugs. A 2022 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 6 in 10 U.S. adults were taking at least one prescription medication and 25 percent were taking four or more. That rate rises as people age. One CDC report found that more than 40 percent of Americans 65 or older had taken five or more prescriptions in the last 30 days (a threefold increase from 20 years ago.)
We pay more for those drugs, too. In 2019, the United States spent more than $1,000 per person on prescription medicines, spending about double what peer countries pay.
Despite spending more, Americans make fewer physician visits. And very few of these visits are spent talking to a doctor face to face. Instead, patients are more likely to utilize expensive, high-tech scans and specialized procedures compared to their other counterparts in other wealthy nations.
The trend is nothing new. The Commonwealth Fund regularly does an analysis comparing the health care systems of various nations, and America’s appalling record has held strong for the past 20 years.
The pandemic only highlighted America’s flailing health care record. The United States saw one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the world despite outspending other countries in fighting the disease.
In 2021, COVID pushed U.S. health spending past $4 trillion.
Of course, from the average consumer’s point of view, it might not seem so bad. Because insurance typically covers the cost for most of us, we don’t see the bill—directly.
However, many Americans either pay out of pocket for health care or go without. While other nations have universal health insurance, more than 31 million Americans (nearly 10 percent of the entire population) have no health insurance, according to a February 2022 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lawmakers recently managed to drop the number of Americans uninsured to 8 percent, but doing so will add a lot more to the national health care tab. In August 2022, the Biden administration passed a bill extending federal subsidies as an incentive for people to purchase private health insurance.
So is it just a frustrating fact of life that we continue to spend more for less care? Or is there something the experts have overlooked?
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, our money could go a lot further if we just gave natural medicine a chance.
“I think this is the future. Things have to move in this direction,” Weil said in a recent Epoch Times health podcast interview.
Weil is best known for his many books and articles discussing subjects such as meditation, an anti-inflammatory diet, and physical exercise as viable paths to optimal health. But he has been an advocate for natural remedies since the very beginning of his long career in medicine.
In the 1960s, Weil earned two degrees from Harvard University, one in medicine and another in botany. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he was on the research staff of the Harvard Botanical Museum, conducting investigations into the medicinal and psychoactive properties of plants.
Today, he’s the director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he’s also a clinical professor of medicine and professor of public health.Andrew Weil, MD, author, director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, clinical professor of medicine and professor of public health (Photo credit: Kevin Abosch
“The demand for this kind of training and information has steadily grown,” he said.
That may in part be due to the consequences of conventional care. In 2016, a Johns Hopkins University study estimated that approximately 250,000 people die per year due to errors committed by our health care system. That amounts to approximately two fully loaded 747 jets crashing with no survivors every day of the year.
A study published in BMJ estimated that outpatient diagnostic errors affect about 5.08 percent, or approximately 12 million, of U.S. adults every year.
“Based upon previous work, we estimate that about half of these errors could potentially be harmful,” wrote the researchers.
Natural medicine has been around forever, and interest in these methods among the public has increased significantly since the 1970s. Since more and more doctors are now gravitating toward this approach, why hasn’t the health care system followed along?
Weil mentions several reasons, but he says the biggest obstacle is the powerful vested interests that control the system.
“It’s generating rivers of money that are flowing into very few pockets—the pockets of the insurers, the big pharmaceutical companies, the manufacturers of medical devices, and the for-profit health care systems,” he said. “Those vested interests don’t want anything to change, and they have total control of our elected representatives.”
As it now stands, the health care system is built to incentivize drugs and procedures over holistic strategies, such as counseling patients to eat better and adopt healthier habits. This dynamic has a huge influence over how we address health concerns, for both patients and physicians alike.
For a doctor concerned with making a living, the message is clear: It takes a lot less time to prescribe a pill that insurance will cover than it does to discuss health-promoting changes that a patient will have to pay for out of pocket—and may not follow through on.
Patients have also become conditioned toward pill-based solutions. In a world of instant gratification, diet and lifestyle can take weeks or even months to show results. Drugs, meanwhile, often work quickly and demand nothing but that you take it.
“I think most physicians wouldn’t know what to do if you told them that they couldn’t use drugs in treating patients, and most patients who didn’t get a prescription at the end of a medical interaction would feel cheated and go to another doctor until they got one. So that is a mindset problem,” Weil said.
An Integrative Approach
Some may hear of a proposal to steer health care toward natural medicine and picture an extreme situation in which people foolishly try to solve serious medical problems with kale and crystals. However, the integrative approach Weil advocates emphasizes something much more balanced.
This approach takes from the best features natural and conventional medicine have to offer and wisely applies each one.
For example, it’s clear that modern medical advances excel in acute care and a few key areas, such as managing trauma and tackling severe illness that develops quickly. Modern medicine also has incredible drugs for treating bacterial infections (although over-reliance on them has resulted in bacterial resistance) and effective treatments for controlling high blood pressure.
“These are all examples of where conventional medicine shines,” Weil said. “I often give this example: If I were in a serious car accident, I would not want to first go to a chiropractor or an herbalist. I want to go to a trauma center and get put back together. But then, as soon as I could, I might use other methods I know about to speed the healing process.”
However, the vast majority of diseases doctors see today don’t involve trauma or infection but are instead rooted in poor lifestyle choices. And the results of applying modern medical techniques to these sorts of diseases speak for themselves. Consider the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, chronic disease, hypertension, and mental illness, which have risen sharply in the past few decades.
Modern medicine offers tools to manage these conditions but gives little, if any, diet or lifestyle instruction that could actually turn these diseases around.
“The kind of medicine that conventional medicine relies on is too expensive because of its dependence on expensive technology. That’s sinking us economically, and we have these terrible health outcomes. So something has to change,” Weil said.
The Value of a Therapeutic Relationship
Today, patients can see integrative doctors, but chances are slim that insurance will cover them. Instead, they pay for the service out of pocket. But what if this integrative approach was applied to the entire American health care system? This strategy would involve shifting the focus of medicine away from pharmaceuticals to manage symptoms (and more drugs to manage side effects) toward prevention and health promotion. It would also bring into the mainstream effective treatments that aren’t dependent on expensive drugs and technology.
However, doing so would mean that doctors would have to spend more time, and patients would have to accept more responsibility, in making appropriate changes.
“When I see a patient, I often take an hour. I spend the first half of that taking a history, and then I give recommendations. I could probably do that in 30 minutes if I had to, but it has to be enough of a chunk of time that I can get a sense of that person and establish a therapeutic relationship with them,” Weil said.
Doctors have instructed patients in the art of healthy living since ancient times. This sort of expert advice is hardly the standard of care today, but perhaps it’s even more important than ever because we live in a world with an abundance of unhealthy pitfalls.
Even for those simply trying to lead a healthy lifestyle on their own, the system works against them. In the United States, in particular, the unhealthiest foods are typically the cheapest and most available. Federal government subsidies of commodity crops have given rise to pathetically cheap ingredients that food manufacturers have come to favor—things such as high fructose corn syrup and refined soybean oil.
Another way in which the system is slanted is that doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies are conditioned to base treatment plans on drug trials, not on lifestyle instruction. These studies may provide evidence for a drug, but they don’t show the whole picture.
“When we study drugs, we test them against placebos, we don’t test them against lifestyle change, which would be much more useful data to have,” Weil said.
Getting people to understand the high cost and poor outcomes of conventional medicine is a huge factor in showcasing the strengths of a more integrative approach. But how do you show consumers what they actually get for their health care dollars and how this money might be better spent?
Weil proposes a study idea to make the message clear. It would involve collecting data on outcomes and effectiveness of integrative treatment versus conventional treatment for various chronic diseases. You would follow two large groups of people, match them for age and medical diagnosis, and compare them for the outcome, cost, and patient satisfaction over time.
“That kind of data is what we really need today in order to show the payers that integrative medicine is in their interest. I’m quite sure we can do that,” Weil said. “The problem is that the National Institutes of Health doesn’t see this within its mission. So who’s going to do that?”
It takes big bucks to get quality data, and since the architects of the current health care system have no interest in funding a trial that explores the virtues of natural medicine, Weil proposes enlisting the private sector. It might start with a few pilot studies initially, but he says the information that these trials would produce would be invaluable to corporations currently hobbled by health care costs.
“They’re only interested in what works. And they’re not bound by ideology. So this is an initiative that I and people at my center are working on—to try to get at least some of these beginning studies going,” Weil said.