New health-care paradigm could save government millions
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
As a New Brunswick citizen, president of the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NBAND) and a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Moncton, adopting innovations that improve our health care is a top priority.
Every Province in Canada, including New Brunswick is faced with spiralling health-care costs. New technologies are becoming more expensive, baby-boomer retirements create increased health care needs, higher incidences of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, and rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases and cancer are on the rise. The reasons for higher health-care costs appear endless.
I recently participated at the Horizon Health Network group workshop held in Moncton. The aim of the workshop was to gain feedback to help the organization develop a new strategic plan to improve our health care. Although, excellent discussions and ideas came forth that day, I did not leave the workshop feeling optimistic. Logistical changes, cost cutting measures, and improving the efficiency of our current system are important considerations, but not enough.
To ‘save’ our NB health care system requires a complete overhaul of our current approach. I propose that our province adopts a new way of thinking about health (i.e. adopt a new health paradigm). This can pave the way for health reform in Canada.
In a number of previous columns, I wrote about improving health care in New Brunswick as well as for all Canadians. I proposed an integrated approach that includes: 1) family physicians (MDs) and licensed Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) working side-by-side; 2) the adoption of six guiding principles for all doctors and health professionals; and 3) a new health paradigm that aims to determine and address the true cause of one’s medical concerns.
Let’s review once again the flow charts that I created to help summarize this new vision for our health care system. In essence, if we include both flow charts together: “conventional health care” + “naturopathic health care” = an integrated health care system that benefits everyone. The debate is no longer whether it’s one or the other, but rather moving forward with the integration of both.
Such an integrated approach is already occurring in other provinces (BC, Alberta, and Ontario for example). I propose that we go further than merely integrating two different health care systems (conventional and naturopathic). It is important that our entire health care system adopts a new paradigm that promotes health and focuses on prevention. Re-defining how we understand “health” should be Horizon Health Network’s greatest priority.
I often tell my patients that I don’t treat symptoms. Without further explanation, it would seem that I wouldn’t be left with anything to treat! On the contrary, through extensive detective work, many imbalances in the body can be revealed and therefore resolved. By understanding how the body is working (or not working), treatments can more specifically address the true cause of a medical condition.
To understand this concept further, let’s look at the flow chart diagrams. Generally speaking our conventional medical system focuses on treating patient’s symptoms and disease using drug and surgical interventions. Most of today’s modern pharmaceutical medications are designed to control symptoms, usually by changing the biochemistry in the body. Examples include blood pressure medications for hypertension, statins for high cholesterol, painkillers for headaches or menstrual cramps, anti-inflammatories for pain or digestive problems, anti-depressants for mood disorders, and sleeping pills for insomnia. Likewise, certain drugs are intended to cure disease such as antibiotics in cases of severe bacterial infections. Overall these medications can provide relief, and depending on the condition can also save lives, playing an important role within the context of our present health care system.
In many situations however, this treatment approach does not address the underlying problem (i.e. the causes of one’s health condition). When symptoms are masked with medication, the disease processes still exist which can cause symptoms in other areas of the body to develop over time. I prefer to think of symptoms as warning signs that indicate imbalances in the body.
Because many symptoms are often uncomfortable especially in acute conditions, I maintain the importance to palliate and ease symptoms (often a combination of conventional and naturopathic treatments work best). This provides increased comfort in a patient’s life while the underlying causes are addressed.
This new vision aims to take health further than symptom management. Let’s look at type 2 diabetes as an example since adopting a new approach for this disease may save our NB government millions of dollars.
In 2009, the Canadian Diabetes Association commissioned a report, “An Economic Tsunami: the Cost of Diabetes in Canada,” The research found that the cost of diabetes in Canada will rise from $6.3 billion annually in 2000 to $16.9 billion annually by 2020. The economic burden of diabetes in New Brunswick is estimated to be $298 million in 2010 (measured in 2009 dollars). This cost is expected to increase by 26% over the next decade to $377 million by 2020.
During the Horizon Health Network workshop, a participant mentioned that there was no cure for diabetes. I promptly helped to clarify that a large majority of type 2 diabetes patients could in fact be cured. The confusion about our ability to cure type 2 diabetes is infused within our present medical system. I have helped many type 2 diabetic patients regulate their blood sugar levels which has enabled them to come off their insulin and other blood regulating medications (see patient testimonials explaining how). Too often, patients ask me “why was I not told how to solve this disease before”. Prior to our first visit together, these patients are only maintaining their disease. No doubt, Metformin and other anti-diabetic drugs are very helpful to prevent disease progression. Dietary suggestions to eliminate sugary foods and switch to whole wheat bread (vs white bread) are also helpful, but these suggestions do not cure their disease. Over time, their diabetes slowly progresses and eventually they often suffer from the complications so commonly seen with this disease (kidney failure, blindness, and cardiovascular disease to name a few). Instead, with adequate naturopathic guidance, diabetic patients can vastly improve their health by making dietary and other lifestyle changes that make a difference. Adopting a new paradigm in the way that we treat diabetes may very well save the NB government (& tax payers) millions!
The goal is to look for the reason your body has developed symptoms. Within this philosophy, symptoms are used as a guide to discover the underlying imbalances in your health. The true causes of fatigue, weight gain, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, insomnia, allergies, depression, anxiety as well as other conditions were discussed in past columns. By determining the root cause(s) of your health condition, treatment can be more individually prescribed to re-balance bodily systems and offers better long-term success.
A new paradigm therefore that promotes health and goes beyond symptom management is both timely and long awaited. I truly support and hope that Horizon Health Network and other health agencies in New Brunswick implement changes that are based on this new paradigm shift.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Thursday, April 24th 2014 in Times & Transcript.
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