When I watch the tides at my favorite North Carolina beach, I picture the advancing tide as “good” or progressive, and the receding tide as “decline” or regressive.
But I also note that no matter how much movement, forward or back, essentially nothing changes. Eventually, the water reaches its former levels, one wave forward for every wave back.
Health care practices and beliefs change almost as regularly as the tides.
As soon as one cure is discovered, there are sometimes retractions of that cure, and occasionally we even return to positions we’d thought outgrown.
(Remember contradictory findings on salt, sugar, cholesterol? Changing views on wine, caffeine, even causes of serious diseases?)
But new drugs and procedures are also discovered every day. More diseases are controlled, and society’s increased attention to hygiene and prevention has reduced certain diseases.
Ultimately people have faith that going forward, there really is a “going forward” toward permanent progress in health care.
One respected writer, however, believes the American system of health care is broken, or regressing. According to T.R. Reid in "The Healing of America" the declining state of American health care is documented in many ways: first, in the exorbitant costs, or highest expenditure as a percentage of GDP, compared to the next 15 industrial nations.
Second, it's in the survival rate from major diseases, where the United States ranks near the bottom compared to other rich countries.
Third, it's in infant mortality, where the United States ranks 10th, just behind Poland.
These indicators plus others look sadly like receding waves, or declines, in the tides of American health care.
But according to Reid, there is reason for hope. We can reduce these losses and surge ahead, he argues. Even with our present system, claims Reid, we can learn from the top-rated French system where long delays in payment are illegal and “Vital Cards” lower administrative costs by storing data efficiently.
And from the popular British system where prevention and cost cutting succeed because general practitioners are paid set fees for each registered patient, thus providing incentives for prevention. And from the German system which strictly controls payments to doctors and hospitals.
These kinds of practices could help our sick health care system come roaring back in economy, efficiency and effectiveness, according to Reid.
Note that all these reforms depend on one commonality: the assumption that health resides in the body and that a matter-based, drug-based system is the only approach.
But what if reforms were based on a radically different approach: the assumption that thought, not body, influenced our health? And that paying more attention to thought would move us toward better health on a permanent and affordable basis?
Fifteen years ago physician Andrew Weil reported in "The Roots of Healing" that patients’ spiritual conditions were as important as their physical health in treating illness. Colleague Barbara Bernie urged the medical community to “discover what it is within us that will…keep ourselves healthy and also overcome disease if we are sick.” We may ask, what is more “within us” than our thought?
My family was first introduced to the idea that one could improve one’s health by changing one’s thought when my grandmother and great-grandmother were looking for better health. They had found no cure for goiters they’d endured. To find a religion that taught how to address troubled thought and how to pray effectively about health was a revelation to them.
It transformed the way they thought about everything and soon the goiters disappeared permanently. This system is practiced by some members of our family today three and four generations later, meeting our health care needs remarkably well.
Changes in how we prevent and heal disease as well as how we maintain overall well-being may move forward and back as the tides. But if more and more individuals look to thought, not body, as the main source of health, what would that sea change do for our well-being as a nation?
(Cynthia Barnett is the Media/Legislative Representative for the The Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC.)