Why is health more than just medical care? Here are some reasons:
- Medical care tends to address matters of the body but not of the spirit. As medical professionals we are trained to diagnose, treat and manage medical conditions. We seek to apply scientific evidence to our craft. And yet health is something more than science, scopes and surgery. The best doctors and nurses treat the person, not just the disease. Illness is not just chemistry and biology; it includes the non-material aspects of existence, such as meaning, dignity and reconciliation.
- Health is an outcome of many complex factors, not just medicine. These include things like nurture, nutrition, good housing, healthy relationships. The reduction in deaths from infectious diseases in the West, for example, was mostly due to non-medical factors, not antibiotics. Again, the evidence is that the best correlation with worldwide infant mortality is the educational level of the mother. Those who want to improve health of populations must think beyond individual care to the social and enviornmental determinants of disease. Health is more than just medical care.
- Ultimately health is not ‘controlled’ by any one discipline or profession. As health professionals we have a fairly narrow focus – to treat or manage conditions in individual patients. But health — since is is more than the absence of disease but the well-being of people — results from more than our medical tools. Smoking, gun violence, human traffiking, poverty, inadequate vitamin A in the soil, deforestation, natural disaster — all contribute to human suffering and poor health!
- Health is about dignity, not just treatment. While excellent medical treatment is essential, not all conditions are curable, and some remain fatal. Even when we can’t cure or treat, our work must sill say, “You are a person. You are made in the image of God!” Restoring dignity must be part our motivation. We are not treating machines, but human beings. Too often in our bio-psycho-social disease model we think mostly about physical treatment.
- Ultimately, health is a blessing of God, who created the body and also gave it tremendous powers of healing. The tagline at a mission hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand reads, “We treat. Jesus heals.” We have the privilege to serve in medicine in humble ways to alleviate suffering; but in the end it is our Lord and Creator who gets the glory.
I welcome hearing about your reasons for thinking beyond medical care to health.