New Priorities for Health Care

The global shift from acute to chronic disease requires a transformation in how we promote health and treat disease. The diseases that now challenge our quality of life and our health care systems are quite different than they were 50 or even 20 years ago. As we live longer, the “disease burden” on society is now caused more by injuries and chronic diseases such as musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health conditions.

While medicine “has done a tremendous job battling fatal illnesses-especially from infectious diseases-we are now living with more health problems that cause a lot of pain, impair our mobility, and prevent us from seeing, hearing, and thinking clearly.” This quote is from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, published in the Lancet Dec. 2012.

Recognizing and addressing a new set of challenges is critical for the survival and successful evolution of our health care system, as well as the economy that supports it. So much of the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the US health care system stems from the attempt to treat chronic disease with the obsolete model that worked for infectious disease.

One example is back pain, one of the major contributors of disability as we age. A recent study published in JMPT (the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics) looked at the rising cost of chronic back pain among aging baby boomers. Inflation-adjusted (to 2010 dollars) biennial expenditures on ambulatory services for chronic back pain increased by 129% from $15.6 billion in 2000 to $35.7 billion in 2006. That is a huge increase in cost, much of which will now be paid for by tax-payer dollars.

Chronic back pain is increasing in an aging population and is causing greater disability. Much of our failure to minimize the disability of back pain results from a system which does not reward or incentivize the maintenance of normal function of the spine. Western Medicine looks at back pain as a “disease” and most typically treats it with medications and surgery that do nothing to restore normal function to the faulty musculo-skeletal system that is causing the back pain, a scenario which encourages the further degeneration and breakdown of the mechanism that is causing the problem. Naturally this is a downward spiral that leads to further disability, medications, and surgery, as long as the “disease model” continues to be used.

It is well documented that chiropractic treatment is effective for treating back pain. Furthermore, chiropractic treatment helps in restoring and maintaining the normal function of the spine, slowing the degenerative process and decreasing  future disability. Yet, the vast majority of people do not typically consider chiropractic treatment as the first option for treatment of back pain. For many people doing so would require a different perspective. Rather than thinking “how can I get rid of this pain or treat this disease”, if the context became, “how can I correct the cause of this pain and restore my health”, the chiropractic option would be a “no-brainer”.

The biggest new priority is to acknowledge that chronic diseases are a degenerative process, and they exist because of a breakdown of normal function of the body. Using health systems that restore and maintain normal function, as described in my book,Your Inner Pharmacy, will greatly decrease the burden of chronic disease.  Let’s seriously look at effective and affordable strategies that will improve our health and quality of life for many more years.