A Vision To Heal Health Care

I once wrote a whole book that is yet unpublished called BROKEN: One Doctor’s Search For The Lost Heart Of Medicine. It’s still unpublished, but I now know the real reason – because my role is not just to raise awareness of how broken our system is, but to be a force for healing it.

I’ve known this for many years – 7 ½ to be exact – but I’ve been so overwhelmed by the enormity of such a mission and so traumatized by the system itself that I’ve resisted this calling.  Until just recently, when I’ve finally made peace with my calling and agreed to lend myself and my online platform to the service of healing my beloved profession.  My upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, as well as the TEDx talk I gave in December 2011 and the one I’m giving in November 2012, the lectures I’ve been giving around the country this year, and many of my blog posts are devoted to being a spokesperson for this vision.

The vision began as fuzzy idea, difficult to articulate and impossible to imagine coming into being. I knew it had everything to do with love and hope and healing touch, but I wasn’t sure about the cursed “how’s.” But over time, my vision has crystallized, the tribe of people who share my vision is gathering momentum, and I already see it coming true, at least in my mind’s eye and small pockets of the world, if not ubiquitous in present reality.

They say if you can’t dream it, you can’t do it. So this has been the first step – getting clear on the dream.

A Vision Of A Healed Health Care System

The vision I now hold in my mind of a healed health care system is crystal clear. In a healed health care system, the healer-patient relationship is the diamond at the core of health care. Everything else is in service to the healer-patient relationship.

The Patient

In my vision, patients know that their body is their business, and rather than punting all responsibility into the hands of doctors, they are willing to accept responsibility for any part they might play in getting sick. I’m not just talking about whether the patient eats well, exercises, smokes, drinks, or takes his medicine. I’m talking about whether the patient makes life choices that are in alignment with his or her Inner Pilot Light.

Is the patient lonely? Depressed? Anxious? Pessimistic? Overworked? Financially struggling? Spiritually bankrupt? Creatively thwarted? Sexually frustrated? Living in a toxic environment? Then no wonder the patient is sick! It’s rare that illness is solely an accident of nature or genetics or trauma. At least 90% of the time, illness results from imbalances in what I call your Whole Health Cairn – in essence, imbalances in your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

This is good news! If illness is either caused by or exacerbated by an unhealthy mind, this means you can assist in healing your body by healing your mind. Your doctor can’t do this part for you. But your doctor or other health care provider can certainly hold your hand – while also prescribing drugs or performing surgery or offering other medical treatments – while you do the rest of the heavy lifting yourself.

Remember that illness is merely a message, trying to communicate that something is out of alignment in your life and needs loving attention. It’s the patient’s job to accept responsibility for the part you play in being sick.

The Doctor

In my vision, doctors and other health care providers remember how to be not just body mechanics, but loving healers. It’s the healer’s job to hold safe, sacred, non-judgmental space for the personal work patients will need to do while facing illness and using that illness as an opportunity for personal growth and spiritual awakening. This means doctors need to control their egos and heal themselves from the traumas inflicted upon them by the very health care system they seek to serve. They need to get off their pedestals and behave as one human being in service to another human being of equal importance.

Doctors need to release their attachment to mechanistic, reductionist views of illness that negate meaning in a patient’s life. Ask any cancer patient what might have predisposed her to cancer (I’ve done this, so I speak with authority), and you’ll hear brilliant answers, such as “I need to prioritize my own self care” or “I’ve just got to quit my job” or “It’s time to go to marriage counseling.” But ask their doctors, and you’ll find them dismissing such explanations with statements such as “Your cancer was caused by a virus” or “Your tumor burden was simply the result of overgrowth of disordered cells.”

Illness almost always means something. It’s a message to the patient, and an enlightened doctor can help the patient interpret the meaning, while loving and supporting and nurturing the patient with the best of what Western medicine has to offer.  In my vision, doctors are open to mystery, to the possibility that patients have the power to heal themselves with their minds, that spontaneous remission is always possible, and that hope need never be dashed.

In my vision, medical schools and residency programs not only reform the traumatic way of educating doctors that more closely resembles the brainwashing of soldiers than the nurturing of healers. They also teach doctors to embrace the mind’s power to heal the body, the best way to hold loving space for a patient’s experience with illness, and how to counsel patients not just about a whole foods diet, exercise, and avoiding bad habits, but about how to balance their Whole Health Cairn. 

The Healing Round Table

In my vision, there is no hierarchy between doctors and other health care providers, whether they be nurses, scrub techs, or alternative health care providers like naturopaths, Chinese medicine doctors, acupuncturists, homeopaths, Reiki healers, herbalists, or faith healers. Instead, the patient is in charge of choosing who sits at the “healing round table,” where everyone is equal and the person with the seat of honor – and the most power – is the patient.

In my vision, petty competitions, dismissive name-calling, and contradictory messages delivered to patients are replaced with a sense of mutual respect for what everyone brings to the table, collaboration, and a commitment to the highest good for the patient, free of ego or judgment.

Factors That Disrupt The Doctor-Patient Relationship 

For-profit Insurance Companies

In my vision, for-profit insurance companies cease to exist, because their legal obligation is to shareholders on Wall Street, not the highest good of the patient, and therefore, they automatically lower the whole vibration of the health care system. Politics aside, there’s no question that for-profit insurance companies need to be replaced by government-supported universal health care, which is not beholden to Wall Street legalities and therefore has at least the possibility of being in service to the greater good. That is, if greedy, power-hungry, corrupt politicians can be tamed. For those who can afford to pay cash for premium health care instead of utilizing government-sponsored health, there will always be a market for this. But at least with universal health care, health care will cease being a privilege and start being as it should be – a right of being human.

Big Pharma

In my vision, direct-to-consumer marketing of the pharmaceutical industry to patients is banished. Doctors and patients aren’t even aware how much they are influenced by Big Pharma. Patients come in asking for expensive, often poorly-tested and unproven drugs, and doctors, wanting to please their patients, grab a pen and comply. Doctors are influenced by all those drug samples sitting there free in the drug rep’s cabinet, and these free samples that might seem benign influence prescribing habits. (Not to mention those other perks the pharmaceutical industry throws at doctors – like 12-course meals laden with wine, Hawaiian vacations and big phat honorariums for doctors who promote a drug, and free stethoscopes for starving med students.)

Medical Malpractice

In my vision, malpractice attorneys aren’t allowed to chase ambulances in an attempt to blame doctors for every bad outcome. And if a patient does choose to sue a doctor, in my vision, the winner pays the losers legal bills. That way, patients will only sue if they have a legitimate case, rather than forcing doctors like me to fight frivolous lawsuits like the one I described in What’s Up Down There, when I was sued three times by a woman who swore I stole her labia. (True story. And no, I didn’t do it.)

Because most malpractice attorneys don’t charge a patient if they lose, there’s no negative consequence for the patient to seek financial retribution anytime there’s a negative outcome, whether it’s the doctor’s fault or not. As a result, doctors are terrified of being sued, and patient care suffers as a result, when doctors feel pressured to overdiagnose and overtreat patients.

Can You See My Vision?

I can see it. I can feel it. I can practically smell and taste it and hear the rumblings of it in doctor’s lounges and patient waiting rooms. But I can’t bring the vision of this to life without you.

Just like there are no incurable illnesses, there are no incurable systems. I know it seems hopeless to think that health care can reclaim its heart, but I have faith that it can. It’s going to require a grassroots effort though, initiated by patients and health care providers who are called to be part of this health care evolution. We can’t depend on politicians, the pharmaceutical industry, for-profit insurance companies, or malpractice attorneys to fix our broken systems for us. There’s too much money and too many egos at stake.

But we can count on each other to reclaim what is rightfully ours. The only way our health care system will heal is if the consciousness of our culture shifts. In the documentary I Am, filmmaker Tom Shadyac shared that when animals decide to switch watering holes, it all starts with a shift of consciousness. They drink out of one watering hole until 51% of the animals decide to drink from a new watering hole, and then the rest of the animals all jump.

I think we’re getting close to that 51% and when consciousness shifts, there’s nothing politicians or drug companies or the insurance industry will be able to do to stop the inevitable healing of our health care system.

We must rise up, open our hearts, and bring the care back to health care. It all starts with you.  Be the love you want to see in health care, and miracles really can happen.

With unbridled hope,

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