The rising tide of health information -- from advertising, studies, statistics, media reports, personal advice and professional opinions -- has reached flood level. As anyone who has experienced a real flood will tell you, the challenge is keeping your head above water and not getting swept away by rushing currents.
And it's not just the sheer quantity of information that's worrying, it's the questionable quality as well.
Drs. Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband, co-authors of "Your Medical Mind," have seen the conflicting medical research, the sometimes dangerously misleading drug advertisements, the professional disagreement among physicians regarding tests, diagnoses and appropriate treatment, and in their book they ask the obvious question: "How do you know what is right for you?"
Experts and authority figures may not have the best answer to that question, they say, but there are ways to cut through the confusion and make wiser individual health care choices.
Think carefully about your choices before making them, for one thing. Don't back down from the decision-making process. Patients make clearer choices if they're aware of the biases and influences that obscure their thought.
Some doctors, too, recognize that individual patients may not be best served by routinely applying the clinical model that guides physicians. The best choice for the patient may be for the doctor to do nothing. Dr. Danielle Ofri wrote in a New York Times piece that "while insurance companies won't reimburse for deliberation, and report cards pointedly penalize, it's interesting to consider that there are many patients who may have been saved by inertia."
Most people will tell you that doing nothing, physically, isn't exactly doing nothing. The body may be stationary while the mind is as active as ever. Someone's whole life can change for the better simply as a result of a burst of inspiration or a sudden change of attitude.
Those who make it a practice to set aside quiet time to connect spiritually -- to pray, to watch for wisdom, to nurture compassion, to shut out distractions and fight off fears -- describe the experience as quiet outwardly but freeing mentally. They feel an inner peace and often a renewal of energy from a divine source. They also talk about feeling healthier as they overcome limitations and anxieties and stop relating to the steady stream of at-risk scares that drug advertising sends their way.
It's empowering to discover how positively the body responds to a fearless mind -- to a more spiritual state of consciousness. Even a majority of doctors in the U.S. recognize the benefits of spirituality in health. It's a completely natural way to improve health and well-being, and we all have the ability to exercise it right now.
Who knows, maybe the Psalmist who said "Be still and know that I am God" also learned the physical as well as mental benefit of having quiet time and space in which to feel the presence of the Divine. In any case, it's ancient wisdom that may be coming to our rescue in the surging waters of today's health care information.