The New Normal is Still Unknown, on Earth as it is in Healthcare

By | May 22, 2020

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

From the vantage point of our self-quarantined shrunken universes, we cannot see even the immediate future, let alone what our personal and professional lives will look like some years from now.

Factories are closed, luxury department stores are in bankruptcy, hospitals have stopped performing elective procedures and patients are having their heart attacks at home, unattended by medical professionals. New York office workers may continue to work from home while skyscrapers stand empty and city tax revenues evaporate.

Quarantined and furloughed families are planting gardens and cooking at home. Affluent families are doing their own house cleaning and older retirees are turning their future planning away from aggregated senior housing and assisted living facilities.

In healthcare, procedure performing providers who were at the pinnacle of the pecking order sit idle while previously less-valued cognitive clinicians are continuing to serve their patients remotely, bringing in revenues that prop up hospitals and group practices.

The social experiment we stumbled into has already demonstrated the value of self-sufficiency and it has started to shake the notion that our society can continue to rely on the medical system to fix just about any medical problem we might develop. Self-care and prevention seem like more powerful pieces of our individual plans for our future wellbeing.

I believe this is an unstoppable trend and I hope it will make us a healthier people.

Thinking back very briefly at influenza, our old scourge, didn’t we rely so completely on the vaccine, which is at most 50% effective in preventing the disease, that we did less than we could of commonsensical hand washing and social distancing?

Didn’t we, because of America’s denial of the wisdom of staying home when you’re sick, as it is manifested in the lack of sick days for many workers and the much celebrated “work ethic” of our society, allow ourselves to spread even less dangerous but economically impactful diseases unnecessarily?

Didn’t we, for far too long, ignore the indisputable fact that the majority of chronic illnesses that burdened our pre-pandemic health care system are in fact preventable and reversible?

Didn’t we, as citizens and as a society, ignore personal responsibility for and stewardship of the health of our human bodies in our thinking of health and disease?

Imagine how our newfound sense of self-reliance can create a new view of preventive and restorative healthcare.

I have said it before, but consider the pathological notion that more diabetes, more cancer, more autoimmune diseases means more drug sales and pharmaceutical profits, more hospital procedures and more money processed and profited from by insurance companies.

Imagine a society with less chronic disease, more able-bodied workers, a pharmaceutical industry more ready for new viruses and more focused on advanced disease prevention, correcting genetic and non-lifestyle triggered diseases.

Imagine a working public health system, capable of disease tracking and empowered to demand a better environment and better social circumstances for all Americans.

Imagine doctors with more time to help patients avoid ill health and less need to continually escalate pharmaceutical treatment for steadily advancing lifestyle-related diseases.

Who would pay for all this?

Well, I’m just a Country Doctor who used to think Sweden’s health care system wasn’t efficient enough. I have since realized that neither is the United States’.

It is time to reimagine what kind of healthcare system we really need.

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine.

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