While the government, insurance companies, and healthcare mega-businesses constantly debate healthcare issues to protect their separate interests, there is a seldom-discussed panacea, albeit not a perfect one, that could go a long way toward reducing health care costs. It’s called preventative medicine.
A lot of us have been doing this all along. I mean, who really likes going to doctors?
You know, the big waiting room and then the little waiting room? They’re always cold and the magazines aren’t that great. And what a great way to stay healthy! Let’s congregating in a room full of sick people!
Many of us quit smoking, curtailed or even quit drinking, and started to turn down artery-cloggers like eggs and butter. We started eating salads with kale, started gobbling down anti-oxidants like blueberries and pomegranate juice, and made concerted efforts to exercise regularly. We receive immunizations on a timely basis and make sure we go in for our regular physical exams.
In our modern-day alphabet-soup of government control, i.e., the IRS, EPA, FAA, CDC- seasoned with Social Security and Medicare when you reach the ripe age of 65, it feels good to take back responsibility for our own health and proactively do something for ourselves.
I tend to like doctors who are willing to coach me on ways to stay out of their offices. An osteopath once helped me with a bad back. I’d already been to a chiropractor seven times, and the chiropractor kept advising me to return for more and more adjustments. When I told the osteopath he promptly replied, “I know that chiropractor. He’s trying to save up enough money to buy a boat. Just do these exercises and I never want to see you again.”
I did the exercises and I didn’t see him or that chiropractor again. Thankfully, the remedy for my nagging back problem was simply exercising–mainly stretching and core strengthening.
Back in my younger days, a doctor noted some high blood pressure readings. He responded with instructions to, “quit smoking, cut down on coffee, take a baby aspirin a day, exercise, avoid fatty foods, start eating more fruits and vegetables, and you’ll live a long time.” Then he added, “Now, go away.”
I took his advice and have enjoyed good health into my 70s.
And in accordance with that doctor’s admonishment, I mostly stayed away. Today, my regimen includes regular sleep, a balanced diet, vitamins, and a lot of rigorous exercise through climbing, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. I also make a concerted effort to reduce stress levels through time management, prioritization, delegation and relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Don’t get me wrong. I do receive regular medical check-ups and screenings for things appropriate to my age group. And when I have a raging toothache, I throw my meditation mantra to the wind and reach for a pain killer, or ultimately- go to the dentist.
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the average American visits the doctor five times per year. I’m sure this rate is much lower for young and healthy Alaskans who hike up mountains, ski and take good care of themselves. According to medical authorities, if all Americans got regular exercise, it could reduce the cost of healthcare by tens of billions of dollars.
But even with great preventative medicine, many folks- especially seniors, need relatively frequent visits and tests to prevent serious problems that end up costing much more to treat down the road if they are not detected early. Early detection and aggressive cancer treatments extended my mother’s life by more than 20 years. Early cancer detection also extended my brother-in-law’s life by about the same length of time. There is a real balance between living healthy and making wise choices about when to seek care.
Finding the right care is important. But for seniors, finding a doctor in Alaska who accepts Medicare, which is mandatory at age 65, is like finding microbial life on Mars. It is frustrating for many. Slowly, the situation seems to be improving and more clinics are gradually opening.
In the meantime, I plan to continue a rigorous exercise regimen, go easy on the salt, increase my intake of fruit and vegetables and say “no” to that extra helping of gravy at Thanksgiving dinner. Okay, well….we all cheat once in a while.