We are at a cross roads, and the choices we make will be felt for many generations to come. As the largest segment of our society is aging, we can either continue on the same path of turning our health care over to the experts, or we can take responsibility for our own well-being. We can add all sorts of new jobs to the health care field or we can empower our communities, families and friends to act as they once did.
In the past several weeks, I've had interesting conversations with colleagues about the continuing belief that good health is equal to health care access, and how health care was being expanded to include a whole host of new "experts." The short response to this statement is that we should all know better. Good health is achieved by how we live our lives far more than having a doctor on every corner. The proliferation of "health experts" is a very slippery slope heavily protected by those who have a job at stake.
Recently, I read an article about the number of employment opportunities that would be available in the coming years as the "baby boomers" age. These included exercise specialists, personal care attendants, home designers, and the new field of "patient advocate." If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you will know I have frequently written about how to be a health advocate (Be a Friend with a Pen), contacting condition specific organizations to arrange for an advocate and in general, the importance of using them. [Health Advocate Who, what, When and Where] However, does being a patient advocate require that you be certified?
If you want to make your living doing advocacy work, you are going to say yes and lobby as hard as you can to get this made a health benefit by the insurance company. However, take a few steps back.
When society left behind the community midwife, women, mothers and wives as healer, opting instead for doctors and hospitals (1800s in the USA), the cost of health care became a very serious issue for many, which has only gotten worse with each passing year. It also put us on the path of turning our medical needs over to an expert and away from listening to our bodies, and learning to heal ourselves.
I am not anti doctor or anti science by any stretch of the imagination, and am extremely pro public health, which is where the majority of life lengthening practices have come from (e.g. vaccines). As my fellow co-director of CCIN www.cc-info.net noted What I am opposed to is the continual turning over of aspects of our lives, particularly our well-being, to those who profess to know better than we do about what's best for us, and have the arrogance to dictate what our values should be.
To the relearn piece. For generations, families, friends and communities looked after each other as their survival depended on it. Whether it was a new baby, the death of a loved one, an accident, a significant illness, or what have you, people had a clear idea of how to respond. Mind you that weren't always able to do so, but they didn't spend time wondering what they should do.
When something happens, the natural urge for most people is to try and help in some way. However, with the proliferation of "experts" in all phases of life, people have become a lot more fearful of responding. They don't want to do the wrong thing, they think there is an "expert" that would be better at this, or they are concerned about invading someone's privacy. There are experts by the bucket load who will assure them they should be very cautious indeed. Better call them first.
In short, by our dependence on experts, we are teaching people "learned helplessness." If there ever was a time in our history that we can’t continue on this path, it is now.
In order to weather the "gray" tidal wave of the aging boomers, I think it's financially and emotionally important that instead of encouraging the development of more "experts," we help communities, families and friends build on what they have that works, encourage them not to be afraid of reaching out to help and to relearn what was common practice in the society of their grandparents and great grandparents. Keep in mind that we have some incredible advantages in the internet age that were not available to our ancestors. In addition, the up and coming crop of seniors are going to be a lot healthier than their parents and grandparents, which means that many will make incredible volunteers.
For practical ways to go about this, in January, I wrote a series on Creating Positive Health Outcome for Patients. For an overview, read Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where you are. For more specifics try:• Creating Positive Health Outcomes for Patients: Five things hospitals can do