Clients that seek holistic nutritional therapy services often have a long history of failed attempts to obtain answers for their health issues through the conventional health care system. All too frequently, these clients come to nutritional and health coaching after their physicians have told them things like, "Well, I can't seem to find a reason for your fatigue (or body aches, or stomach distress, or headaches, or rash, or....). But I'd like you to go ahead and try some Prozac (or any number of other pharmaceutical drugs) and see if it makes you feel better." Some clients have also reported physicians and other providers becoming abrupt or even rude when pressed for more direct answers and explanations. Others have been told that nothing is wrong with them because "all of the lab results are normal", despite their ongoing symptoms and poor quality of life. And still other clients have fallen victim to the general acceptance of the decline of health in our society, in which they are treated as though it is quite normal to be coping with issues such as acid reflux, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. And, of course, the acceptable way to cope with these insidious health problems is through the use of pharmaceutical medications.

So, what is happening with the delivery of health care in the United States and other developed nations? Why are more and more clients struggling to find the answers to treating their health concerns? I've pondered this question for one reason or another since becoming a nurse and there is no easy answer. An argument for the greatest failure, perhaps, is that the focus of our system is not truly on "health". From the bottom up, conventional health care is designed to be reactive, instead of proactive. The priority is on caring for those with disease, rather than promoting healthy lifestyles to prevent disease. There is nowhere that this fact is more obvious than in the observation of health care billing and payment structures. It's safe to say that physicians do not make the bulk of their money off providing preventative exams and other wellness services. There is much more money to be made in billing for encounters in which diseases are diagnosed and managed. In reality, our "health" care system is really a sick care system.

In fairness to those working within conventional health care, health care providers are increasingly overworked. There is an incredible amount of pressure to do more with less and that means that health care providers have an increased workload, which ultimately equals less time spent with patients. When time with a patient has to be prioritized, it is likely that the provider will spend more time on managing pharmaceutical medications rather than educating on diet and lifestyle. It's an unfortunate reality that health care IS a business, and all too often, the business aspect takes priority over doing what is best for the patient. Having worked in the realm of health care quality for many years, I can tell you from firsthand experience how often important clinical findings are overlooked or ignored because the provider is so focused on getting through the workload and moving onto the next patient.

Yet another major failure is that conventional health care providers are not trained to discover root causes of disease. Conventional health care is almost solely focused on the treatment of symptoms, with the vast majority of the treatment being pharmaceutical drugs. There are political and economic forces behind how health care professionals are trained and what information they are taught. The pharmaceutical industry provides a lot of funding to universities, and if you follow the money trail, the failures of our health care system may start to make a little more sense. Many people may be surprised to learn that physicians are taught relatively little about maintaining health and wellness while in medical school. Most medical schools only have one course on nutrition and the focus of that course is generally on nutritional biochemistry and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines (which, unfortunately, cannot be considered a reliable or unbiased source of nutrition information).

The nursing profession is perhaps a little different, because the focus of nursing care is on health promotion and education. By its very nature, nursing has always embraced more of a holistic perspective to health and wellness. Unfortunately, the typical nutrition education of nurses is similar to that received by physicians. Along with the rapid advances of medical technology, it is a concern of mine that the education of nurses has also started to take a greater focus on dealing with pharmaceutical drugs and other conventional treatments, rather than health promotion.

Yet another failure comes in the form of industry expectations that all health care providers will follow so-called "standards of practice" and "evidence-based guidelines". This becomes a liability issue for a lot of providers that wish to remain employed within the conventional health care system. Even if they don't necessarily fully embrace the prevailing nutrition and health dogma, providers may fear the legal and economic repercussions of making alternative recommendations. If they are directly employed by a health care system or want to remain as an in-network provider of health insurance companies, they really may not have a lot of choice in the matter. For example, if a health care provider is treating a patient with type II diabetes, there are specific protocols that the insurance companies expect the provider to follow. If the provider doesn't follow the protocols for the majority of his/her patients, the insurance company will start to ask questions that may eventually result in the insurance company no longer allowing their members to go to that provider. Of course, there may be creative ways of getting around all of those protocols, but the majority of health care providers are so stressed just trying to get through the daily workload that it is becomes just easier to go along with the conventional protocols.

Many clients have concerns that their conventional health care providers provide little or no dietary and lifestyle recommendations for managing and preventing disease. As mentioned above, this type of counseling is often outside of the comfort zone or knowledge level of many providers. There is also a perception by many health care providers that most patients just do not listen to dietary or lifestyle recommendations. In general, our society is always looking for a quick fix. Many people would rather just take a pill than make a lasting lifestyle change. Eventually, a lot of providers do end up "giving up" after a bit because it can become discouraging when so many patients are not open to learning about how to take care of their health. But for our society to change as a whole, our providers also have to change. If the focus of care shifted to an expectation of lifestyle changes first, with pharmaceutical drugs serving as a last resort, patients' attitudes toward nutrition and lifestyle change may also start to shift. The societal norms are certainly a complex issue with many factors that influence how our health care delivery system works. Everything from the constant barrage of advertisements by the pharmaceutical companies, to how health care providers are trained, to how many people do not take full responsibility for their own health.

Many people put a lot more faith into conventional medicine than they should. It's no secret that our "health" care system is broken. There is no real desire on the part of the majority of health care providers to figure out the root causes of symptoms. There is a complete lack of understanding of the relationship between food that is put into the body and resulting health. As the effects of poor nutrition and environmental toxins have passed down through several generations now, sub-optimal health is becoming the norm. At the same time, the public places an incredible amount of faith and trust in their health care providers. They take everything that their physician, especially, says as absolute fact. Anyone that works in the holistic health care field will tell you how common it is to hear, "But my doctor told me..." or "But if that's true, why wouldn't my doctor have told me that...?". While there are certainly a lot of intelligent physicians and other health care providers that work in conventional medicine, it's important to understand the limitations of the system in which they work. There is a lot about human health that cannot be explained by the conventional medicine paradigm.There is a lot about how conventional medicine is practiced that seems to defy common sense at times. But in the end, it is YOU, the receiver of health care services, that has to take the responsibility for health into your own hands. Only you have the power to make the choices that will lead to positive changes in your life!

What steps have you taken to assume control of your own health?