All things considered, this is a great time to be alive. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 and we are far less likely to die from injuries or major diseases. Vaccines have eradicated the most common infectious diseases and advances in surgery and pharmaceuticals have restored quality of life to many who would have struggled on a daily basis a mere century ago.
However, modern medical advances have come with their own drawbacks. Opioid misuse and addiction has been declared a national crisis resulting in more than 115 deaths every day in America2. Overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the formation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”3 and antibiotic use has been shown to adversely affect the microbiome, increasing the prevalence of diseases like malnutrition, obesity and diabetes4. A recent study also indicated that a surprising number of tests and procedures done for Medicare recipients were unnecessary and in some cases, dangerous for the patient5.
Fortunately these trends are not going unnoticed by the healthcare community and there is a growing consensus that steps need to be taken to limit our reliance on pharmaceuticals and surgery, particularly when they are not the best option. In response to the opioid epidemic, the American College of Physicians (ACP) came out with new guidelines last year recommending that physicians and patients should treat low back pain with non-drug therapies such as superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation6. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the problem of antibiotic resistance from antibiotic misuse “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems” prompting more physicians to think twice about prescribing antibiotics for minor infections.
Healthcare practitioners are also integrating traditional therapies like acupuncture, cupping therapy and using food as medicine into their practices due to their safety and proven effectiveness over a long period of time. Because of the holistic nature of these therapies, patients can also feel empowered to have a better understanding of their condition and what they can do about it. The integration of therapies is already becoming more mainstream – the Cleveland Clinic has a Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine and Cancer Treatment Centers of America boasts it’s focus on providing integrative care7. Patients are also learning to take a more active role in their healthcare by questioning if a drug is necessary or beneficial for their long-term wellbeing. A growing understanding of the need to be your own advocate is driving patients to think about the side effects of pharmaceuticals and surgeries and consider alternative means for dealing with their illnesses.
As healthcare practitioners recognize the effectiveness of integrative medicine and patients demand better options for their health, the healthcare landscape in America will continue to become more and more integrated. The future of healthcare in America will likely include even more advancements and new medical discoveries, however integration of therapies that have stood the test of time will help fill in the gaps.