Health Insights column: Our health care system is in shambles
World Health Organization ranks the U.S. at 37 for quality of health care. Yet, we have one of the most expensive health care systems in the world and one of the poorest outcomes.
When a patient goes to the doctor today, they are given a drug to treat their symptom. And many times, these drugs are making things worse because the side effects of drugs can be more harmful than the symptom treated.
Prescription drugs have now become the fourth leading cause of death in the US. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are 2 million adverse drug reactions reported per year and 100,000 deaths yearly. Nursing home patients have 350,000 adverse drug reactions reported per year, according to the FDA. The cost of adverse drug reactions is $136 billion dollars per year which, per the National Center for Health Statistics, is greater than the cost of cardiovascular disease and diabetes care in the US.
Adverse drug reactions cause one out of five injuries or deaths in hospitalized patients per year. Why are there so many adverse drug reactions? Two-thirds of all patient visits involve a prescription. And adverse drug reactions increase with four or more medications.
Treating chronic diseases
To overcome this reliance on prescription drugs, we need to get to the cause of the symptom which is usually a function of diet, lifestyle, toxins, social or emotional issues.
Yes, drugs can be beneficial to stabilize a patient in a case of trauma, infection, cancer, disabilities or surgery. But in terms of chronic disease, drugs should be the last resort. Patients with chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol should be treated with diet and lifestyle changes first, and when these do not work, then go to a drug. This overreliance on prescription drugs also has a negative impact on health care costs.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, drugs can be marked up 1,000 times or more in price in the U.S. You can get the same drugs in Mexico many times for hundreds of dollars less.
Most chronic diseases are preventable. Studies show that two-thirds of all heart disease, one-third cancers and adult onset diabetes are preventable. And obesity, which causes most of the chronic disease, is preventable, according to the CDC. Yet, most insurance companies do not adequately cover prevention. We have one of the most expensive health care systems, yet among the poorest outcomes, because preventive medicine is not covered. We can save money by catching these diseases at an early stage.
Another reason for the high cost of our health care systems is because we order unnecessary tests. If doctors spend more time with the patient to get a thorough history and physical exam, then they could eliminate many of these unnecessary tests. Primary care physicians need to spend more time with the patient so they can get to the cause of the health issue instead of treating the symptom. According to a 2013 survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, many primary care physicians are seeing 20 or more patients a day. This is only enough time to prescribe a medication.
Our entire health care system needs change and the focus cannot only be on cost. We need health insurance companies to pay for prevention and focus on treating the cause of the disease, not just the symptom. Our medical schools need to focus on nutrition and lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment rather than a drug. Patients also need to be responsible for their own health by changing their diet and lifestyle when necessary.
Creating healthy environment
As a society, we need to have uncontaminated food, air and water that supports the healing mechanisms of our bodies. We need to focus on healthier organic foods and reducing herbicides, pesticides and toxic metals in our environment that have been shown to cause many diseases.
Our health care system is not only about cost. It is about creating a healthy environment, educating patients on their diet and lifestyle, focusing on prevention first, and treating the cause of the disease and not just the symptom.
Deborah Wiancek is a naturopathic physician who has had a family practice at The Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic & Pharmacy for 18 years. She can be reached at 970-926-7606. Learn more at riverwalknaturalhealth.blogspot.com or follow twitter.com/riverwalk.
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