• TheSean BarkesClinic

Healthcare for the New Millenium

I was asked to provide comment for the Sunday Times Style Magazine about illnesses that modern medicine has a tough time trying to diagnose and treat. Of course, I draw mainly upon my own clinical experince in making such comment. However, it seems to me that there is a lesson to be learned here on how we manage anything in this country of ours, not just healthcare. Anyway, here was my submission (I wonder how different it looks when it is published?):

“Modern medicine is utterly impressive if you are critically ill, have a broken leg or some very clearly defined medical problem. The challenge for modern, NHS medicine is where the sufferer’s condition less easily lends itself to simple categorisation into broad groups for generalised treatment, with drugs say. In my experience, healthcare problems such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, food intolerances and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example, seem to pose difficulties for the GP that Acupuncturists and Traditional Chinese Medical clinicians do not seem to experience. That is not to say that we have a quick-fix solution for patients. It is just that we have certain advantages over NHS methods. For example, we have the luxury of time, generally spending much longer with the patient than is possible in an NHS setting. Also, our diagnostic framework enables us to make a unique diagnosis for each individual followed by a very tailored treatment plan. In this way, the treatment is much more targeted and will involve a process of self-understanding for the patients in terms of development of the illness, its root cause in terms of what they have or have not done to precipitate it, and by deduction, a route out of the situation. It’s a healing process that they can have an active involvement in rather than being prescribed a ‘pill’ and returning to the mêlée of life that has probably caused the problem in the first place.

We have many patients that consult us with a range of disparate symptoms for which they have been prescribed a variety of medications. Each symptom has been treated as an entirely separate problem. However, when we re-diagnose from a Chinese Medical perspective, it becomes very obvious that all these symptoms are part of the same disease process that has been initiated by an unsatisfying job, abusive personal relationship or just a sedentary lifestyle.

Because the NHS is ‘medicine designed for the masses’, the diagnostic approach has become ‘for the masses’. In other words, all sufferers have to fit into a pre-defined medical category. Moreover, the result of this medical categorisation is a standardised approach for all sufferers. This is compounded by the sheer volume pressure that our NHS doctors are faced with. Our quick fix society has seen to it that the doctor’s work is never done. The general attitude to health seems to be “I’ll break myself, but you can fix me” shifting the whole responsibility of healing to the doctor.

There is a parallel here with the business world. Businesses that manage by fire-fighting at the very least fail to grow and at worst they just fail completely. A longer term, big picture strategic management approach to business often reaps rewards that far outweigh the initial investment in terms of time and other resources. I think that our public healthcare systems need to follow a similar approach. As a country, we have proved to ourselves that we cannot just listen to a symptoms and prescribe a symptomatic solution for the patient. If we do, even if this symptom disappears, others follow as the root problem within the life of the individual has not been addressed. A famous Chinese physician, Li Shi Zhen, said “all illness is rooted in life”. I think that public healthcare needs to embrace this philosophy pretty soon if it is to manage the huge demand that it is experiencing for healthcare in this country”

Written by Sean

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