An old English fable concluded with this powerful moral: “In this world, the most important person is the person in front of you who needs your help, the most important thing is to help them, and the most important time is right now.”
Should not the mission statement of the health care industry read like this moral? Perhaps the best way to answer this rhetorical question is to review a few very interesting facts.
There is no question that modern medicine has been very successful treating a diverse array of health problems of “mechanical nature” such as cataracts, decayed teeth, damaged heart valves or degenerated hips, as well as numerous kinds of bacterial infections responsive to antibiotics. However, it has shown important limitations in the treatment of pain problems and chronic diseases, by stubbornly focusing on the pharmaceutical (and sometimes surgical) management of these conditions, ignoring the very important human factors involved in the experience of disease.
This “old science” approach is leading the health care systems of the most advanced nations in the planet, to the brink of bankruptcy. The “return on investment” in public health care is increasingly negative in dollars and sense, with the number one spender, the USA, as the worst example, already investing 17.6% of their GDP (or $8.233 per person) just to be ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) number 38 in the list of health care systems among the 191 member countries (behind countries which spend only a few hundred dollars a year on health care). Canada is not in a much better situation as it invests over 11% of its GDP ($4.445 per person) to be ranked in that same WHO’s report the country with the 30th best health care. [Note: the WHO ranking information is from the year 2000, when that one time attempt to evaluate health care systems of all country members took place. As the results of this publication embarrassed many powerful countries the pressure and criticism was such that a study like that has never been repeated].
But there is one revealing statistic that cannot be suppressed and that debunks many of the health care myths created by the pharmaceutical and hospital industry in rich nations. It is the statistic regarding life expectancy. According to 2010 data, life expectancy was 76.2 years for a USA male versus 78.5 years for a Canadian male, or 80.3 for a Swiss, with Spain, Japan, Sweden and a few others above the 79.1 years mark. For USA females it was 81.1 years of life versus 83.1 for Canadian females, and almost 85 years for Swiss, with Japan and Spain now exceeding this number with 86.4 and 85.3 years of life expectancy respectively.
The corollary is simple: if the current mechanistic model of medicine, deeply rooted in a materialistic worldview, was an accurate reflection of how the body really works, then the health of the people treated with this system should be better than the health of the rest of mankind.
As this is not the case, we ought to conclude that there must be something important missing from the much talked about “evidence-based” recipe so narrowly used by many in our health care environment. What could that something be? And why are there still so many conventional doctors intensely annoyed by the existence of colleagues who practice a different kind of medicine, such as acupuncture practitioners? And why are the accomplishments of these complementary interventions often dismissed as a mere “placebo”?
The answers to these may be complex but not the obvious next question: if acupuncture was just a great placebo, would it not still be smarter to use it, particularly in cases of chronic and functional problems, rather than to keep spending billions of dollars in ineffective health care as the statistics provided above show?
Swedish doctor Thomas Lundeberg, editor of the journal Acupuncture and Related Therapies, said in a recent editorial: “…the practice of medical acupuncture may be considered as an art within the medical sciences. Its focus is the patient seeking help because of a health related problem. For medical acupuncture as an art, its chief and characteristic instrument is the human capacity. The therapist has the ability to listen, to empathize, to inform, to show compassion, in fact to be part of the treatment and to exercise ability to care for and treat.”
Good Swedish doctors and old English fables coincide: the best way of being part of the solution is to first stop being part of the problem. Acupuncture is trying hard, no wonder it starts and ends with A•C•U•R•E.