I first coined the concept of what I call treating a healthy patient back in 2011. I’ve always loved the concept of a doctor actually treating someone who thinks and feels completely healthy. The challenge is that this type of relationship is very different than what we have in our current health system today.
While our current model is very different, I’m hearing more and more things that get me back to healthcare treating an otherwise healthy patient. Although, someone recently pointed out to me that we’re not really treating a healthy patient, because we’re all sick. We just each have different degrees of sickness. It’s a fine point, but I still argue we’re “healthy” because we feel “healthy.”
This analysis points out one layer of change that I see happening in healthcare. This change is being able to detect and predict sickness. Yes, that still means a doctor is treating a sickness. However, I see a wave of new sensors, genetics, and other technology that’s going to absolutely change what we define as “sick.”
This is a massive change and one that I think is very good. I recently read an article by Joseph Kvedar which commented that we’re very likely to seek medical help when we break our arm, because the pain is a powerful motivating factor to get some help. Can this new wave of sensors and technology help us know the “pain” our bodies are suffering through and thus inspire us to seek medical attention? I think they will do just that.
The problem is that our current health system isn’t ready to receive a patient like this. Doctors are going to have to continue to evolve in what they consider a “disease” and the treatment they provide. Plus, we’ll likely have to include many other professionals in the treatment of patients. Do we really want our highly paid doctors training on exercise and nutrition when they’ve had almost no training in medical school on the subjects? Of course, not. We want the dietitian doing this. We’ll need to go towards a more team based approach to care.
I’ve regularly said, “Treating a healthy patient is more akin to social work than it is medicine.” Our health system is going to have to take this into consideration and change accordingly.
Treating a healthy patient won’t solve all our healthcare problems. In fact, I’ve wondered if in some ways treating a healthy patient isn’t just shifting the costs as opposed to lowering the costs. Regardless of the cost impact, this is where I see healthcare heading. Yes, we’ll still need many doctors to do important procedures. Just because you detect possible heart issues doesn’t mean that patient won’t eventually need a heart bypass surgery some day. In fact, a whole new set of medical procedures will likely be created that treat possible heart issues before they become straight up heart issues.
What other ways do you see the system moving towards or away from “treating healthy patients”?