medical system broken

Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate and the personal health journey that inspired her career is all too familiar…

When she was 11, Adrienne was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her conventional doctor prescribed antibiotics and they didn’t work, her mother was then told there were no other options.

Two years and multiple integrative therapies later, Adrienne was Lyme-free.

Time and again, when Adrienne saw conventional doctors, her experience was the same: the root cause of her chronic conditions was rarely solved for — nor did many doctors consider a cure for a root cause a concern. They just treated symptoms

Adrienne has now founded WellBe, a media platform “focused on bridging the gap between our healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally”. We love her mission and asked her to share a few top concerns with our current US medical system below…

If you’d told me when I was in high school that my lifelong mission would be to transform the healthcare system by starting a consumer-led revolution, I would have laughed in your face. But that is exactly what it has become. I’ve never been as determined to see something through in my life.

You probably heard about healthcare reform during the last few elections, and you may even remember buzz words being thrown around such as the Affordable Care Act, insurance premiums, drug prices, etc. To anyone who has not been a chronic disease patient, a caretaker of one or who hasn’t worked in the healthcare system, it’s a confusing mess – one you hope to never have to deal with or understand.

Based on my personal experiences as a patient, caretaker, and from the several years I spent working with hospitals, I believe there are three main reasons why the healthcare system is broken — and they may not be the reasons you’ve heard about.

I could write a book on the history of our current healthcare system and how it has developed since the 1940s. I’ll keep it brief and say that our system is the best in the world at treating acute, emergency situations. Run over by a car? Got a stomach bug traveling in India? You bet you want the full power of the American healthcare system to save your life. And this is how our whole system of medicine developed over the past century, to save lives from things like polio, influenza, cholera, freak accidents and more. And it has done that really well.

What it hasn’t done well, and didn’t take into account back in the day, is that without getting to the root cause of a chronic health issue – say, eczema, constipation, or migraines – you’re just placing a band-aid on a condition that needs a much deeper look. It can mean prescribing drugs that simply mask – and do not treat – symptoms. When you do this, you may reduce or even eliminate that symptom temporarily, but you are likely causing harm by not figuring out why it’s happening in the first place. It may continue to get worse. If you use steroids to suppress the immune system or introduce drugs or surgeries – and their side effects – you may introduce a whole host of other health issues.

I’ve heard this described as a game of whack-a-mole: you treat one symptom, and then your body pops up with another: ‘Hey, I need help in here! I tried to tell you last week with that rash but you ignored it so here I am again with this stomach pain! ‘

The U.S. healthcare system’s conventional approach to chronic health issues creates a tremendous amount of wasted treatment, money and time and, most importantly, doesnt’ return the body to a state where it can heal itself without some sort of crutch, like a drug.

You’ve probably noticed that doctors, hospitals, labs, and pretty much the whole system only gets paid when you get sick. If you stay healthy, they make a lot less money. The more treatments they do or drugs they prescribe, the more they make. People respond to incentives — it’s human nature, we all do. And our healthcare system gives every incentive to keep treating symptoms instead of digging into the root causes and enabling the body to heal itself because, simply, if they did the payments would end there. (Editor’s Note: Some natural healthcare groups have advocated for a health-based – not sickness-based – healthcare cost systems. They’re complex, but not as much as you’d think and would signify a huge shift to the way we approach chronic care).  

Most of us have some kind of health insurance. You may be familiar with the idea of in-network doctors verses out-of-network and the things that are covered verses those that are not. Insurance companies outline exactly which kinds of treatments we can get for which things, and which kinds of doctors we can see. This system has created a situation where if you can’t pay out of pocket, you may not have access to needed care. If you’d like to try acupuncture to treat back pain, or a Chinese herbalist to treat a gut issue, or a new experimental treatment for depression and you don’t have piles of cash laying around, it’s not possible.

Worst of all, it’s all based on disease-related codes, so most insurance companies will not cover things that may be more preventative (like acupuncture or chiropractic care for moderate back pain that you want to prevent from becoming severe requiring pain medications or surgery later). Most of all, it means there is a lack of health freedom for people who don’t have money to spend on their health out of pocket. And, sadly, those are the people who are usually the sickest.

 What do you think of Adrienne’s ideas about the US healthcare system? Have you encountered ideas about integrative medicine or reform that you admire? 

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