Do you want health care, or a skeet shoot?

It seems so obvious to me now, but I didn’t realize at first that I was asking the wrong question. On our clinic’s original health intake form, the first question for the patient was to list their “primary health complaints”. This led them to the obvious exercise of itemizing their symptoms which they wished for me to get rid of. Symptom removal is the wrong organizing lens for healthcare.

Focussing on symptoms and their removal, rather than on health and its expansion, displaces the central focus of healthcare. Placing health as the focal point of healthcare is a much more congruent move for me as a Heilkunst practitioner. This does not mean that symptoms are to be ignored, but rather they are to be understood within a larger context. How a symptom is removed will determine whether the patient’s overall health is increased or decreased in the process. Without a clear, objective map of health, it is impossible to know which occurred for any particular instance of symptom removal. Witness the common examples of over-prescribed drugs which may reduce or eliminate a symptom, but at great expense to the organism in the form of side effects. “Here today, gone tomorrow” is a dangerously incomplete model for treatment of symptoms, as it doesn’t address whether a disease symptom was cured, suppressed, or merely palliated. This is the approach to healthcare which seems more like a game of skeet shoot of symptoms.

Most patients come to treatment within this mindset of symptom removal, and it is not helpful in the long term for me to reinforce that limiting outlook. I realized that our health intake form was conforming to this usual symptom model of health, and that I needed to radically change this. Instead of asking the patient to list their “Primary health complaints”, I changed our form to ask instead for their “Main health goals”.

Bingo! One simple change, and I feel I am now starting new patients on the right foot. I still see patients struggle to make this shift, even with the language they use on their intake form; however now that this distinction is clear in my mind, it is a lot easier to re-educate patients, and help them focus towards their optimal health over the long term. Although there are still intake forms I get that are filled out with the goal stated “To stop the pain”, there are many more that are beginning to explore the language of positive health instead of the negative language of “removing” a symptom. And we still enjoy watching symptoms melt away as part of this process of expanding health.

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