For so long, our understanding of healthcare and getting the right treatment has centered around the illness itself. Are we physically sick? We go to a primary care physician or a specialist who can help us with the illness. Are we facing emotional challenges? We visit a psychiatrist, therapist or other practitioner suited to address our needs.
But truth is, one often feeds the other. Physical illness often leads to emotional challenges and vice-versa.
Think of the stress we face every day, including those of us who must brave daily commuter traffic. It’s frustrating, and that often leads to physical symptoms such as headaches and even more concerning physical manifestations. And if you have to manage a boatload of work when you get home – paying bills, cooking dinner, helping kids with homework, doing laundry – the stress only grows.
Fortunately, more and more healthcare providers and insurance companies are understanding the reality of physical and behavioral challenges working together in our lives, and they’re accommodating them. It’s called holistic care.
And there is more to be done.
Many medical practices are siloed and only treat the physical or the emotional challenges. But to make real change that will improve the lives of patients, the answer lies in the culture of the practice and the teamwork with patients to address the big picture.
To start, practitioners are changing the way they interface with patients, beginning with language. Simply put, it’s time for a new script. We should be saying, “It looks like you are having some stress. We have a professional on staff that I’d like to send your way.” Rather than ignoring the symptoms or saying, “You should find a therapist to talk to.” We need to change the words and relate their symptoms back to domains in their life where someone is feeling stress and pressure. That approach brings a layer of authenticity to the conversation and helps the patient see they are not alone. It’s simply how we talk about the issue, even though the issue itself doesn’t change.
The time has arrived for practitioners to change the way they interact with each other. It’s about adopting one another’s language and understanding key pieces of one another’s scopes. It means consulting more with each other and working from a shared treatment plan and shared medical record. Practitioners come from their own perspectives and bring their own area of expertise, but when they see and understand one another’s view, the bigger picture comes into focus and the patient benefits greatly.
Even insurance providers like Cigna are getting it. They are recognizing other life factors in the health of the patient, such as their ability to access care, or their housing or job situation. All of these either help or heed access. Recognition of this larger story increases awareness for everyone involved and leads to true integration around care.
But still, there is more to be done. More practices need to recognize and adopt this holistic approach. As an industry, it’s important that we provide accepting environments that help patients overcome what feels like embarrassing situations. And there are certainly challenges in how we operationalize all of this. But insurance providers already recognize that they are paying for this care in one way or another, so embracing the holistic care model will give them clarity and help control costs more efficiently.
In the end, it’s all about the good of the patient.