By Dr. Michael Noonan, Special to the BDN

Posted May 09, 2013, at 11:16 a.m.
 The last column covered the largest “driver” of health care costs, which is lifestyle, and the benefits (including cost benefits) of living a wellness lifestyle. Now we’ll look at the second part of the wellness equation — the benefits of wellness care, especially when compared to today’s health care system.

Most people aren’t aware of the difference between wellness care and disease care. We just assume health care is primarily medical, with a few problems that can be helped by “alternative-type” treatments. But wellness care can — and some say should — be the cornerstone of a health care system.

The problem with a disease-based system is that while it does treat disease, it doesn’t necessarily improve health. Despite the fact that 81 percent of the U.S. population uses an over the counter or prescription medication regularly, our health is not improving, it is declining.

The number of people on multiple medications is steadily rising, along with rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Changing our health care system to one that is based on wellness care could save our state millions, not only in improved health outcomes but also in reducing our need for drugs, surgery, testing and hospitalizations. In contrast to our current system, where a disease is managed by drugs that improve one bodily function (say, blood pressure) but interfere with several others (“side effects”), wellness care focuses on improving all parts of a patient’s health without upsetting other functions. This includes treatments such as manipulation, acupuncture, exercise, dietary recommendations and supplements and herbals. These are very powerful treatments and the experiences had by millions of patients has shown them to be effective for most health problems, especially chronic diseases.

There is a lot of skepticism in our drug-oriented society for anything that isn’t in pill form, but research has shown chiropractic care to be very safe, effective and economical.

Of course, most of the research was done on back pain, since it is one of the most common health problems, but there is evidence that chiropractic helps other health problems such as asthma, vertigo, colic and blood pressure.

Many chiropractic doctors also argue that care of the spine benefits the whole body, and there may be improvements in health that seem to be unrelated to the treatment. Many patients report that they sleep better, are more relaxed and more. This is the nature of a wellness treatment — its “side effects” are actually an overall improvement in health.

There also is plenty of research that shows acupuncture to be effective. In fact, the World Health Organization’s website on acupuncture lists 28 conditions that have enough research behind them that it can be recommended as a treatment. This list includes very common problems, such as back and neck pain, depression, and headache, as well as unexpected conditions such as malposition of the fetus (breach babies), nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and high blood pressure. The site further list 63 conditions that acupuncture has been shown to be effective for, but further research is recommended. This list includes conditions such as ulcerative colitis, tobacco and drug addiction and shingles.

In 1996, an HMO in Chicago decided to test the idea that wellness care can be the basis for their health care system. They allowed their clients to choose chiropractic doctors as their primary care providers, and the chiropractic doctors were expected to provide wellness care to their patients. They were able to order tests for their patients, but would prescribe no drugs, do no surgery and only offer natural treatments including manipulation, acupuncture, nutrition and herbals. If a patient needed medical care, they were given a referral.

After five years, the average costs per patient for the wellness providers were compared to the costs for the traditional medical providers. The results were nothing short of amazing. The overall expenses for the wellness family doctors were 60 percent less than their medical counterparts. Their patients reduced prescription drug use by 85 percent and hospital admissions by 60 percent. An article published in the 2007 Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics gives the details of this effort.

My advice? Try to be one of the 3 percent who truly live a healthy lifestyle. Even small improvements can make a big difference. And if you do get sick, be sure to start off with wellness care, going to the more aggressive disease attacking forms of health care only in emergencies or when wellness care fails.

Originally posted at Bang or Daily News