The query gripping the nation: "How do we reform health care?"
But I don't hear anyone asking a far more essential question: "What is health?"
Given that we all want health and spend trillions to "care" for it, it's sobering how little thought we give to its true meaning. When I ask, the response I receive is typically "the absence of disease." Health is much more interesting and consequential than this. To define it in this negative sense is no more accurate than to define wealth as the absence of poverty.
I define health as a positive state of wholeness and balance in which an organism functions efficiently and interacts smoothly with its environment. Good health comes from an innate resilience that allows you to move through life without suffering harm from toxins, germs, allergens and changing environmental and dietary conditions.
By no stretch of the imagination does mainstream American "health care" move us closer to this vision of robust, resilient health. It is a fiscally unsustainable, technology-centric, symptom-focused disease-management system. Consider that two-thirds of all Americans die from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are all strongly associated with lifestyle choices. Maintaining and paying for our current system will serve only to continue - if not exacerbate - this trend, and bankrupt the nation in the process.
A truly reformed health care system will care for our health rather than care for our ills. This does not mean it will abandon those who are sick or injured. Instead, measures that maximize our innate self-healing capacity - our health - will be used first whenever possible to both facilitate recovery and keep us whole and balanced.
How do we get there? Here is a summary of the health-promoting, disease-preventing agenda that I set forth in my new book, Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future available September 8, 2009.
- Our medical schools must teach health promotion along with disease management and crisis intervention. If the National Board of Medical Examiners included questions on these subjects in required student exams, schools would quickly add them to their curricula.
Benjamin Franklin's adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has never been more relevant. In Franklin's time, contagious disease was the scourge of humankind, but focused effort has rendered it a historic footnote. With sufficient will, we can do the same with chronic disease that now costs us so much to manage.
iRelman, Arnold S., M.D. A Second Opinion: Rescuing America's Health Care. Public Affairs, 2007, p. 78
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more