Who Teaches Us About Health?

Doctors Bag with BunnyWhen I was a child, doctors still made house calls. For those too young to understand what I’m even talking about, I have to explain that in those days a physician would actually come to your home, diagnose your medical condition while you were in your own bed, write a prescription, and dispense some advice on how to proceed with the cure.

The Loss of Personal Touch in Modern Medicine
Leaves Us Less Empowered to Do Our Own Healing

Family doctors were almost like friends and neighbors who knew everything about you, not just your medical history. Oftentimes, they first met you literally at birth, gave you your vaccines, treated personally all your ills, and kept your records in their heads. No archives, no computers needed.

They were also teachers. Whatever folks learned about medicine, this was their one and only source. They trusted it, sometimes to a fault. The doctor was God, his (mostly his, back then) word was gospel. But this fundamental trust in authority and professional competence was an important component in getting people back on their feet. They also gained some expertise in the process themselves.

I remember my mother, who was not very educated, having conversations with our doctor about how to deal with my childhood illnesses and occasional injuries, how to administer medicines, and how long to enforce bed rest. Nothing ever seemed rushed. It appeared to me almost like gossip what was going on between them. But it was reassuring, even to me, that everything would always turn out all right because the doctor said so.

None of this still exists, of course. The family physician is now the general practitioner (GP) who functions mainly as a gatekeeper between the patient and a specialist. Schedules are tight and waiting rooms are full. Forget taking time for a friendly chat. In-dept consultations are practically unheard of. Anything beyond tests and prescriptions does not get reimbursed by insurance companies. So it doesn’t happen.

I’m not nostalgic about the ‘good old days.’ They had their downsides, too. But being a health counselor myself, I do know first hand that conversing with patients about their concerns can make a real difference in their healing process. Being listened to and taken seriously is something we all want in our everyday lives. How much more so when we are at our weakest and most worried?

Another important aspect is what I call teaching people “health literacy.” Good health ranks at or near the top of almost everyone’s priorities, and yet there is so little knowledge among the public about pro-active, health-promoting measures anybody could take up right away.

Our healthcare system is mainly geared towards treatment of disease after it strikes. It is good at repairing damage, but less so at preventing it in the first place. That is where better education in health matters would come in handy.

The doctors of my youth knew that and they practiced it extensively. Their expertise may have been limited in comparison to today’s standards, but it was acquired over a lifetime of hands-on experience and practice. They not only knew their patients intimately, they also had the skill of communicating with them in ways they themselves could understand and act upon.

Nowadays, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. The Internet allows us access to almost everything known to mankind, and medical science is no exception. But at the same time, there seems so much disconnect between people’s health needs and their actions.

Somehow I think my mother was better instructed on how to get me back on track after a little tête-à-tête with our doctor than she would have been had she browsed a thousand websites.

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