Utopic Health

What is your dream of a perfect healthcare system?

Set aside politics, set aside cost, set aside obstacles to perfection - what would you want if anything were possible?

I've had the privilege of seeing a small number of medical systems and hearing stories from those who've experienced others. Here in Australia, we have a government-funded public healthcare system where just about everything that is necessary to make sick people better is covered. In the US, there is a huge amount of innovation but at a tremendous cost to the individual and the nation's economy. In Ghana, not-for-profits, the government and organisations pump money into the system yet the benefits seem not to be as great as the investment.  I've heard so many stories about medical clinics across the developing world that possess neither supplies nor healthcare professionals. Of those that possess either, there is a desperate desire for any of the other.

Healthcare has become complicated. In the developed world, we are often obsessed with adding in new features without clearing up the old, adding new on top and forever creating a more complex, less navigable, less efficient and more disenfranchising system. We constantly add pathologies to the long list of possible conditions, drugs to the never-ending prescription pads of doctors and diagnoses to patients who are overwhelmed by their new labels.  In an effort to cure everything, to white-wash the walls of anything that could be considered an illness, we have lost the sense of what is 'healthy'.

I read an article today that mentioned if anyone else produced a mobile app for tracking steps walked, calories consumed or hours of sleep in a day, they might scream. I hear constantly from health professionals that quitting smoking does not require nicotine patches, rather that it requires determination and a sense of 'being ready' to take the next step. Many go to the doctor for a simple matter and endure numerous tests for an easily solved condition.

Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten how to just be.

So, for a moment, let's think about being healthy. No apps, no labels. Just you.

The moment you were born - you had never felt the air on your skin, the gasp of that first deep breath that inflates your tiny lungs. You'd never made a noise, nor had the opportunity to so freely move your limbs. You had never felt so cold, nor been so far from the person who kept you safe for nine months. In many cases, that person will continue keeping you as safe as they can manage for as many years as they can, until puberty hits and (like many of us) you go a little off the rails.

You grow up, contract a few relatively harmless colds, stick your nose up at vegetables (especially Brussels sprouts), eat your parent(s) out of house and home and run around the playground with your friends. You spot your first pimple in the mirror, you have your first kiss (and your second and so on), meet someone you love and these people break your (proverbial) heart until you find someone that doesn't. Somewhere in there you might get pregnant or impregnate someone else and the cycle might start again. You grow older, feel your bones creak under the weight of your years, you don't quite fit into the clothes you used to wear and then you shrink back down, this time in height as well. You watch your nieces and nephews grow up, you see friends injured in freak accidents, then some die of old age, and then it will eventually be time for you to go too.

That's life.

In the perfect world, that story would never include hospitals, at least not as we know them today. You would be born in a family-friendly but safe environment with someone on hand to help if anything went wrong during the birth. You would have time to bond with your mother before being whisked away to be washed. You would keep your umbilical cord connected for a few minutes after you emerged into the big wild world so that you would have adequate fluid and haemoglobin on board. You would be breastfed to obtain important antibodies. You would receive vaccinations against dangerous communicable diseases. You would eat your vegetables. You would get enough exercise, never break a bone, never contract any crippling diseases, never have your body turn against you, never have a freak accident.

But that's unlikely. Most in the developed world are born in a stark white room, our mothers often fearful and confused by the process and procedures of those in white coats. Sometimes we miss a vaccination. Often we cease breastfeeding much earlier than recommended because it's pretty hard for Mum to exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue in part until a year of age. Often it is easier for an exhausted, working parent to put a child in front of a TV or game while they try to prepare something that resembles dinner. Less expensive to purchase low-nutrition foods than green-leafy vegetables that children don't enjoy.

Sometimes it's impossible to avoid genetics, the condition that you didn't know was in the family might rear its head, or a spontaneous mutation could come out of the DNA woodwork. Sometimes the environment we live in changes our epigenetics, sometimes it overwhelms our body with unnatural substances that cause damage. Sometimes unavoidable things happen and we land in hospital or the GP's office, in need of someone with the knowledge to help us, or our loved ones, get better.

When in hospital, a thousand tests and no answers are frustrating. All anyone wants is to get better. To take a pill or get a surgery or have a plan. To control the thing that is now a problem, or might be a problem in the future.

When in hospital, nothing makes sense.

Imagine if hospital were less scary. If there were easy-to-understand information available from helpful staff, brochures or interactive technological devices. Imagine only needing to tell your story once, reconfirming a few details along the way to make sure the story is correct. Imagine health professionals who treat you like a person, rather than like Patient 8 of the day. Imagine students with compassion rather than eager faces to see your one in 300 000 condition. Imagine being in control of your treatment, whether your condition is curable or not.  Imagine solutions.

There are impositions to a perfect health system. We don't have all of the answers. There are so many things about the human body that still make no sense to anyone. There are a lot of things that make sense but for which we have no treatments. There are always financial barriers.

Prevention is cheaper and more effective than cure. Empowering you to live your life healthily doesn't require an app. Nor does it require expensive marketing. It requires simple education on how to take care of your body. It requires time spent thinking about how lucky you are to have this vessel for your mind. Health is about connecting with your body. Health is about understanding when you aren't at your tip-top finest. And asking someone who might have answers when things go wrong.

Being healthy doesn't mean never getting sick.


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