Having worked in the field of physical rehabilitation for over 35 years, I have seen many changes in medical practice. Some for the better, some for the worse.
Modern medicine is dominated by the use of therapeutic drugs. Big business. Mega-profits for the companies which hit the right spot in the market. So there is a constant race to produce a new magic bullet cure for every possible human ailment, not to mention medicines designed to prevent illnesses, all preferably packaged and marketed for use by the maximum number of people over the maximum possible time.
The upside is that progress has been made in controlling diseases such as smallpox. The downside is that many medicines have side-effects which cause secondary problems, some of which can be dangerous and even fatal; and that overuse of medicines, especially antibiotics, has created drug-resistant infections such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and C.Diff (Clostridium difficile), and sometimes an upsurge in the diseases which the medicines were supposed to treat, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Many therapeutic drugs are now available over-the-counter and on the internet. Practitioners of different kinds have prescription rights. In the United Kingdom, apart from registered medical practitioners, some nurses, health visitors, physiotherapists and podiatrists have the right to prescribe certain types of drug, as do dentists. Whenever a patient is under the care of several practitioners, there is a risk of medicines being over-prescribed. Worse still, if there is no coordination between the practitioners, conflicting drugs may be administered with results varying from minor disruption to disastrous.
In some ways, the emphasis on drug therapy has distorted principles of health care. Many doctors and patients expect that cure can come out of a bottle, packet or sachet - and that ‘scientific medicine’ was the only way problems could and should be treated. When I trained as a Chartered physiotherapist in the UK all those years ago, I was reluctant to treat tuberculosis patients, because both my parents had had TB, and my oldest brother had died of the disease. My fears were brushed away: ‘It’s not a problem if you get TB nowadays, you just take the drugs and all is well’. In the same spirit of false confidence, over the following years most of the UK’s isolation hospitals for infectious diseases were closed. This, of course, was before the days of drug-resistant TB, now a major source of concern in world health, alongside the rise of the so-called ‘superbugs’ mentioned above which afflict almost all UK hospitals. The US report, 'Antibiotic reistance threats in the United States, 2013', issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified that "most deaths related to antibiotic resistance happen in healthcare settings such as hospitals and nursing homes".
From the patient’s point of view, the expectation that all ills can be cured by the wonders of modern medicines has created a sense of invincibility. People don’t feel responsible for preventing illness and promoting their own wellbeing. Health promotion campaigns come and go, and there are constant, sometimes conflicting, messages in the media about ‘healthy living’.
Healthy living depends on many factors, physical, mental and emotional. Environment also plays an important part. There is no single formula for a healthy lifestyle. Much depends on the individual. Diet, exercise and lifestyle habits have their influence one’s health, and have to be considered as a whole in relation to an individual’s capacities, preferences and aspirations. A top-class sports competitor has different needs from the sedentary office worker, but for health both have to pay attention to diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. For everyone, hygiene is of primary importance in preventing and controlling infection and cross-infection.
My years of experience as a rehabilitation practitioner specializing in trauma and sports injuries have, naturally, taught me much. My basic principles have been constant throughout:
1. simple solutions
2. freedom of choice
I favour natural cures to injuries and illnesses, whenever possible. The human body has a powerful capacity to heal itself, in the right conditions. It’s up to the practitioner to help create the right conditions. The patient (or the person responsible for the patient in the case of a child or someone incapable of making reasoned choices) should be informed of the nature of the injury or illness, the possible treatments and their effects (including risks), and self-help measures. Then it’s up to the patient to decide which course of action is best in a given situation. Very often, feeling in control of the situation is an important part of the patient’s ability to recover.
This is the background to the formation of ECO HVAR for health, a not-for-profit organization promoting an understanding healthy lifestyles, problem prevention and solutions.
© Vivian Grisogono 2013