Stop Calling Medicine “Healthcare”

“I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth saying again: health is not what doctors do. “

Doctors do medicine. Doctors diagnose. Doctors do remedies. Doctors do emergency life-saving procedures.

That’s not news. Here’s what is news:

None of those things are health. Health is the stuff that keeps you from needing any doctors do in the first place. We fail ourselves when we get that confused.

Now for the really strange part: most people now believe that “health” is what doctors do. Why wouldn’t they when the medical profession is quick to sprinkle the word “health” and “healthcare” liberally into a conversation about what they do. That only works because you are desperately looking for someone to outsource your health to….anyone. And you’ll pay handsomely to anyone who can even give you something that looks like or feels like health—even when it’s not—as long as it requires a minimum of input and/or inconvenience from you.

Health is something only people do for themselves.

So here’s what we all need to understand better (despite what you hear): health is something only people do for themselves. You are people. The only doctor I want to talk to about health is the one who will teach me how to never see him professionally.

Another important concept to take in: to visit a doctor needing a remedy for something is evidence of some failure on your part. Does that sound harsh? It’s also simple, and true. And the more you assimilate that truth into your daily understanding of your role in your own life, the better (and healthier) you’ll be.

They did things—hard things—because they had no choice. It was that, or die.

“By now, many of us have even forgotten what we can and should do for ourselves.”

The first line of push-back I get for that statement is often, “What about accidents?” “What about acts of god (more accurately, nature)?” “What about victims of violence?” Here’s all I have to say about those things:

There were a whole lot of centuries and lifetimes and generations in our history as a species where there were no hospitals and no doctors. The people who lived in that time took the job of preserving their own well-being extremely seriously. They did things—hard things—because they had no choice. It was that, or die. Can you honestly say that you’re doing the same? Or have you let a few things slide because there is a doctor waiting somewhere to prop you up when you consistently deny your body what it needs to thrive? If you can honestly say you’re doing everything you can, then you get a pass on your doctor visits—but then, there’s probably very few of those. (Reality check: I’ve never known anyone like this. I still fail at this. And, anyone like this probably hasn’t been to the doctor in years).

“… doctors do a lousy job of preventative health. Just ask one; he/she will tell you.”

For the rest of us, let’s just be honest: one of the ways that we let the work of personal responsibility for our health slip is by outsourcing that role to doctors. That way we think we don’t have to do it. Truth is: you are the only one who can. And, doctors do a lousy job of preventative health. Just ask one; he/she will tell you.

Example: It’s only been in the last few months (as of September, 2013) that there has been any kind of profession-wide conversation about the need even to tell a patient that he or she is obese(!!!). And we still don’t have any real consensus on exactly what to tell them about correcting that problem. Does that sound like a credible resource for health information?

The main objection I hear is that people are already too invested in thinking of health as something best left to professionals. Here’s my message to those folks: the word “health” is not the important part. If you don’t want to call it health, then call it something else, because it’s still a thing, and just refusing to give it a word isn’t going to make it go away. If you’re trying to pretend what I’ve described above doesn’t exist just by refusing to give it a name, it will still take a toll on you. The only way to avoid this toll is to be very clear on exactly what your responsibility is to your own quality of life—those things that only you can do—and what the price is for failing in that responsibility. It would also be great if it you had a word for it, because you’ll be referring to it often. I choose to call it the one and only “health”.

Just to be sure you’re not misunderstanding me, I’m not some religious zealot who is telling you that it’s a sin to ever see a doctor. By all means, when you are in acute distress or are injured, a doctor is exactly what you need. I’ll go even further by saying that you are free to see a doctor anytime you want and for any reason you want, just be very clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What that will teach you is that, by the time you need a doctor for anything but acute distress or injury, you’ve been neglecting your homework for quite a while.

A great place to start is by refusing to use the word “health” in association with the medical profession or, frankly, anyone other than yourself. And refusing to seek advice or treatment from any medical professional who pretends to be serving the role of “health-care provider”. At the heart of that language is something crucial to both the quality and length of the life you will live.

“By now, many of us have even forgotten what we can and should do for ourselves.”

The only point in all of this is to say that we are failing—personally and societally—in our daily responsibility to treat our own health seriously. It’s clear that we can; they did it for eons before medicine. Someone needs to call this out. Just because something is hard and inconvenient doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. We don’t make something go away just because a lot of us think that the solution is unreasonable or it isn’t a good fit for our current lifestyle. That thinking only occurs in modern life. That is the thinking that leads us to outsource everything in our life that is the least bit unpleasant. In reality that thinking only allows us to move the problem around, not eliminate it. And when it comes to health, we’re trying to move it onto medical professionals. They’re glad for the extra work and the money it brings (hello ‘health-care crises’ in the US), but they were never trained for it and they’re not very good at anything but making the symptoms go away temporarily.

By now, many of us have even forgotten what we can and should do for ourselves. I’m here to remind you. But above all, I want you to know that there is no substitute for living a life that respects the truth of your responsibility to preserve your physical independence and your ability to contribute to those around you to your greatest extent? No amount of money can buy it because it can’t be outsourced. You either will or you won’t, and the evidence of your choice will be there for everyone to see. Just as it is for me.

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