The New Worldview in Health Care Should Be Based on Wellbeing, Not Disease

Over the last decade, I’ve studied, trained and practiced my craft in the emergency department, dedicated to doing my best for each patient. In that time, I’ve also realized that while I am a part of the medical care system, I am not actually part of a health care system. While my goal is to give my patients the best chance to be healthy, the system and science in which my practice is rooted seem too content to manage disease, watching it wax and wane. I find this unacceptable. I’ve watched from the inside as health care has struggled to live up to its name, despite our successes. 

Philosopher and physician Albert Schweitzer wrote that a culture can only be as healthy as its worldview. What is the worldview of healthcare today? It is that disease must be conquered. We attack disease, not realizing that the very inclination to attack is the genesis of disease. We trumpet the successes of this incomplete approach in our medical journals while waging a never-ending battle.

We will know that health care is really serious about shaping up when we begin to pay as much attention to health and wellbeing as we do to disease; when medical education and practice requires self-care as much as it requires the practice of prescribing and cutting; when doctors learn about food as medicine; when medical education teaches us how to collaborate inter-professionally across different healing systems; and when medical science catches up to the physics of 100 years ago and recognizes the human body as more than a physical structure.

Our bodies and minds are the soil in which health or disease can thrive. It is this soil that holds the key to a science of wellbeing. The new worldview in health care must be based in wellbeing, no longer disease.

A tall order? There’s more.

Today, we can no longer talk only about local cultures. The culture of wellbeing we will create in healthcare cannot be separated from the culture of food, housing, politics and every other culture. If we’re serious, we have to talk about our global culture – literally, across the globe. The world has become small enough that our worldview must encircle the planet. The internet and social media have made it so that local change can become global change within minutes to hours. The successes and failures of our neighbors on the other side of the planet are our own, as our own successes and failures are theirs. It has always been this way. Now, we are seeing it more distinctly. What is the worldview that will sustain us and carry us forward? Wellbeing.

Surely, each of us has different ideas about wellbeing: what it means, how we get there and how we apply it at the personal, organizational, sectoral, national and global scales. But let’s have that conversation. Let’s balance out the talk about disease with the exploration of wellbeing. Because the exploration itself is the experience.

I’m an emergency physicians, and I see an emergency that is greater than anyone of us could experience individually in an ED. We are letting wellbeing slip through our fingers. With heads down, we are falling in line with antiquated ways of thinking and doing.

Press <pause>. Take a moment to do something that inspires you. It can be as simple as taking a few easy breaths (literally, inspiring). Imagine one thing you can do differently every day to make wellbeing the centerpiece. This is your doorway.

Walk on.