In the last 18 years that I've spent managing my chronic pain and invisible illnesses, I've run into plenty of road-blocks and have had a lot to complain about regarding America's current "health care" system. Now, I use the term "health care system" lightly, because it doesn't feel like America has any real interest in keeping it's residents healthy, but rather seems perfectly content in doing the bare minimum to manage their alarmingly increasing illnesses.
In the last two weeks alone I have broken down in tears more than once because of how callously I was treated and dismissed by a medical professional- and it was not even close to being the first time this has happened to me. Prevention, wellness, and big-picture medicine seem to barely be a blip the radar of American Doctors, and despite television shows and movies showing us doctors who stop at nothing to figure out the root-cause of a patient's illness, pain, or symptoms, the reality, more often than not, is waiting an hour past your appointment time only to have a prescription or two thrown at you to "try out" to "see if it helps" while being told to "come see us again in a few months" as the doctor rushes in and out in under ten minutes flat.
If the many woes outlined on the internet as well as my own personal complaints are any indication, this kind of "health care" has left a lot of people feeling like nothing more than a means of continued profit for a third party rather than a person in need of medical attention, which got me thinking: what does my ideal health care system look like? So I decided to play a little game, a game in which I build my ideal health care system, my own ideal world really- and it looks a little something like this:
Everyone in this world has health insurance. "Junk Plans" do not exist. Treatments and prescriptions prescribed or recommended by a medical professional are never denied. Or perhaps there is just no need for health insurance at all because health care is simply affordable and widely available and none of the current red-tape philosophies that surround our current system exist in this world. Either way, there are no barriers between you and better health -not even stigmas.
Hospitals in this world are so much more than the recovery rooms, surgery centers, waiting rooms, and cafeterias with the day-old sandwiches that we know today. In this world, hospitals have community gardens, farmers markets, gyms, and lecture halls that are open to the public. Treatment, in this world, is more than a prescription based on whatever pharmaceutical rep came by hawking their wares that week, but instead is based on big-picture medicine, with an emphasis on wellness rather than sick-care.
Let's say I make an appointment with my doctor, in this office we'd examine my immediate problems, such as my chronic aches and pains, but we also look at things like ergonomics, fitness, nutrition, mental health- the whole picture. In this world, your doctor would write you a prescription or recommendation for a personal trainer, a person who you could connect with at the gym in the hospital, and that person would work in tandem with your doctor regarding your fitness regimen and progress and how it affects your overall health.
This trainer would not only make sure you have a fitness routine that suits your personal needs (ie: Do you want to lose weight or build muscle? Want to run a marathon? Are you recovering from an injury? Do you have physical limitations or special needs that need to be taken into account?), these trainers would also work with kinesiologists who would ensure you know how to move and work-out safely and properly. They'd analyze your home and work environments to assess the ergonomics of your space to see if that could be contributing to your chronic aches and pains, or if there are ways to minimize them in your day to day life. This assessment would also be generally available to anyone who asks for it to ensure environmental aches and pains don't develop in the first place. These results will be put in your chart, and your doctor will be consulted on findings, changes, and progress, and your wellness plan will be updated accordingly.
Moreover, the gyms in these hospitals would be covered by your insurance (or open to the public) and in addition to work out equipment, they'd offer things like: yoga, tai chi, zumba, soul cycle, and other alternative fitness classes that your doctor and trainer could suggest based on your needs/interests/abilities/limitations. Your trainer and/or another professional would always be available to take these classes or work-out with you to ensure you're not hurting yourself by moving incorrectly or over-exerting yourself (especially if you have hyper-extension, are recovering from an injury, etc) if you needed them to be. At these gyms you would be able to sign-up for field trips like hiking and other physical activities that take place out of the gym. There would be access to sports, dance and gymnastic teams/classes you could sign up for that work in tandem with gym and hospital staff- and all this would be covered by your insurance (or is just widely available) and these activities would be highly and widely encouraged, because being active and social would be an important part of your wellness plan.
This same doctor would also be interested in your knowledge of nutrition and your diet and dietary needs. From them you could get a prescription or recommendation for a nutritionist, who would be working in tandem with your doctor and trainer to develop nutritional goals, meal plans (if necessary), and make sure you understand the fundamentals of nutrition and how it affects your health based on your personal and medical needs. They would tell you if you should take supplements and which ones, if you should avoid nightshades, or if you need to eat more green vegetables, or lower your sodium intake etc. Cooking classes, nutrition education classes, and participation in the hospital sponsored garden and farmer's market would be highly encouraged. Nutritional changes and updates would be documented, and a core part of your wellness plan.
In addition to all that, in this world, the doctor would legitimately listen to you and work with you towards your health goals and understanding of your own medical/health journey. If you're concerned about something, that concern is not brushed off. If you have a specific concern like trouble sleeping, chronic pain, memory issues or anything specific, they will work with specialists to find the cause of the issue rather than just dumping you on another medical professional. If you have a need for more education on something pertaining to your health, resources, classes and seminars are widely available. Employers understand, and are flexible with time-off options to allow time for these activities.
In this world, lecture halls would hold regular seminars and classes would be widely available and come in a wide range of subjects because knowledge is power and health starts with you! We already mentioned cooking and nutrition classes, and of course things like pre-natal and childbirth classes would be available, but there would also be classes on things like: rare and common illnesses and diseases, research breakthrough updates, first aid, basic human biology/how the body works, sex education/sexually transmitted disease awareness/prevention, the importance of sleep, healthy habits, etc.- and you would be notified of upcoming seminars, classes and resources that may be of interest to you.
Every year you would go in for a top to toe physical (including annual wellness exams for women) which would also include a check-in with a therapist because mental health is treated as just as important as physical health. If you are dealing mental illness or feeling overwhelmed your doctor can prescribe or recommend a therapist or support group and they would be as affordable, widely available, and encouraged as medication.
This is my dream, my ideal world, and it's a far cry from what we have, but dreaming is the first part of planning, and plans are how we get things to change. So I'd like to encourage you all to dream with me- what does your ideal health-care system look like? Let me know in the comments below!
-FSC Founder and Fabulous Fibro-Fighter-