Hospitals used to be a place where we went to die. Medicine was wholly inconsistent, unclean, and imprecise. We live in a different reality these days. Symptom treatments and cures are abundant with the thousands of drugs and surgeries available. Paradoxically, one of the leading causes of death within hospitals is not the original illness, but illnesses contracted from improper care while at the hospital.
How Do We Heal Medicine?
As we work towards improving health care, we are examining the multitude of factors that either derail or curate human health. For example, Atul Gawande’s TED talk How do we heal medicine? examines the careless errors that lead to unnecessary deaths. He proposes a systemized care approach that greatly reduces hospital errors. Broken systems lead to improper care and increased death and illness toll. This predicament is not solved by improved surgical technologies and medications. Shifting the approach of doctors and health care providers will solve this problem. I propose that healing medicine means introducing a new model for health and rectifying philosophical misconceptions of materialism as elements of an improved medical system.
Mind + Body + Spirit
Addressing the holistic image of a person, the mind, body, and spirit, is a philosophical aspect of care that will heal medicine. Improper care, in contrast, is an outdated model that negates holism. With the modern practice of specialists and targeted medicines, this negation of integration is the norm. The medical world is stirring and awakening itself to this incomplete, deconstructive model of health.
As we call attention to the terms of mind, body, and spirit we begin to see the vague definitions and blurred boundaries between each element. As with any philosophical inquiry, the initial pursuit of these questions further clouds the picture of health initially. Yet how can we address the individual’s health needs without a foundational understanding of these three factors?
Mental health has fought to investigate and address the mind’s impact on wellbeing. Health advocacy groups are gaining traction and demanding that we pay attention to the mind’s needs and influences. Spirit must equally be brought into the conversation. The spirit, in my vague definition, is the soulful element of the mind, the rich conscious awareness that we humans possess. It is what envelops wellness, the umbrella under which our human body functions and our experience develops meaning. Spirit has a mystical element, an ineffable quality, and a guiding power over our lived experience.
Addressing the spirit requires that we address intentions, wishes, and beliefs. It means that we encounter the humanity in each patient, and push the patient to grapple with their mortality in the face of illness. Healing medicine means developing a doctor’s understanding and integrative application of these three elements.
Daniel Siegel defines health as the integration of systems. Evolving from this point, medicine will thrive through an integrative approach of our different understandings of the human. This means going beyond the physical sciences and into psychology, spirituality, social sciences, and even the arts. Such a pursuit requires humility, acceptance of science’s blind spots, and trust in adjacent fields of knowledge. The medical profession stresses material evidence and accumulation of knowledge, resulting in is inherent resistance to ‘non-scientific’ views, like religion and spirituality. These fields are wise to address the human spirit and form definitions of mind, body, and spirit.
If we are to solve modern health care issues like obesity, mental health, and terminal illness we cannot rely exclusively on material knowledge. Doctors and patients alike must come to know the spirit and mind. They must integrate spiritual awareness with the empirical knowledge of mind and body. From this point, medicine can go beyond the physical body and towards comprehensive healing.