Are we always approaching improvements in health care in the right way? Sometimes our efforts to make things better actually have the opposite result.
Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, MD makes this point in his book Over-diagnosed – Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. Welch looks at how our pursuit of health, with the aid of improved technologies, has resulted in new standards for what is considered “sick”. Unfortunately the newly defined abnormalities are being treated unnecessarily, resulting in consequences worse than the condition that was treated.
Speaking from his own experience as a physician, Welch warns that “… more diagnosis leads to excessive treatment—treatment for problems that either aren’t that bothersome or aren’t bothersome at all. Excessive treatment, of course, can really hurt you. Excessive diagnosis may lead to treatment that is worse than the disease.” (p. 11)
Aside from the detrimental physical effects of over-diagnosis and thus over-treatment, there’s the monetary cost of treating what doesn’t need to be treated. And worse yet is the anxiety and fear that is created when we start to call what was once normal, an abnormality or sickness. The resultant stress can actually create or exacerbate ill health.
Often left out of the examination of quality in health care are the less tangible measures of things such as:
- does the care include treating the patient as a whole person?
- Does the care include consideration of the patient’s spiritual beliefs and practices?
Quality in any health care system is a must. And, more and more people agree that quality care happens when patients are treated as whole persons in all dimensions, including physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of being.
This understanding isn’t new. More than a century ago, spiritual activist and health writer Mary Baker Eddy noted:
“The calm, strong currents of true spirituality, the manifestations of which are health … must deepen human experience…”. And, the human experience can certainly be deepened in the pursuit of excellence in any field, but especially in health care.
We can all appreciate the value of quality and excellence in medicine. That’s especially true when its achieved through deepening the human experience by honoring the currents of spirituality and seeing and treating the whole person.