The Speedy Trap of Modern Healthcare
In today’s fast-paced world, healthcare can too often be about delivering quick fixes and treating diseases. This is acceptable in certain situations, such as a broken arm or strep. It can also be detrimental.
As someone who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), has run multiple businesses, and participates in endurance sports, I have come to realize that treating the individual first and foremost is what truly matters when addressing long-term situations such as a chronic condition. It took time and distance to see this. It took even longer to realize this concept extends beyond just healthcare and resonates throughout various industries.
My MS Journey: More than Just Medicine
When I was diagnosed with MS, my neurologist prescribed oral medication to manage the condition. It required a dosage twice a day. I live my life in a fairly regimented and consistent manner. I believe discipline today provides freedom tomorrow.
For the medicine, I use every means possible to remind me, including Apple Health medication reminders and alarms. I lay out all medicine for the week every Sunday. I keep spare medicine in my laptop bag. I maintain my home time zone when I travel to stay on track. Thus, I rarely missed a dose.
Yet, at every six-month checkup, he would ask how many doses I had missed.
The Emotional Equation: Medicine vs. Mindset
I originally believed it was just protocol to be asked in order to track the state of my disease vs. adherence to therapies, including patient-administered medicine. This seemed logical and appropriate. According to NY Langone Medical Center research – “After discontinuing medication, 24 percent of patients experienced a clinician-reported relapse, 32 percent sustained three-month disability progression, and 10.6 percent of patients recorded both relapses and disability progression.”
My assumption was wrong.
It took a few years to realize that he was not so much checking for forgetfulness but rather for emotional resilience. While the medication treats the disease, it is also a constant reminder of my illness and the limitations, fears, and uncertainty it can impose. As another MS warrior once shared with me, “It’s a twice-a-day reminder that I am broken.”
Oath, Ethics, and Emotion: A Holistic Perspective
He was treating the person, not just the disease. He knew the importance of addressing the emotional, physical, and psychological aspects of the illness. I am reminded of this as I meet others with MS. Too many have often stopped treatment because of the need to control something. They cannot control the disease, but they can control their treatments. This is problematic, given the risk and ramifications.
Medical professionals take an oath to do no harm, a principle that goes back centuries. Treating the disease is important, but what about the emotional and psychological toll it takes? A study by the Journal of Medical Ethics states that physicians have a moral responsibility to consider the overall well-being of their patients. It is not just about fighting the disease but finding ways to provide support and alleviate emotional distress. However, only focusing on the disease without considering the person could be seen as not truly fulfilling this oath. My MS doctor inherently understood this.
Stoic Resilience in Healthcare
Drawing from Stoic philosophy, we must recognize that we cannot control the situations we find ourselves in, but we can control how we respond. This applies to medical professionals as well. The best healthcare providers see their role as addressing the disease and helping people manage their emotional responses and find peace amidst their challenges.
This is a coordinated dance between the person and the provider. (Dare I say – between the customer and vendor.)
I understand the importance of balancing mental and physical resilience as an endurance athlete. Just like training for a long race requires specific strategies, managing a chronic illness demands personalized approaches. During training and especially during a race, my needs evolve over time. What may work at one stage may not be effective later on. (I can only take so many stupid gel packs.)
This only works when we provide our coaches and trainers with the current state and feedback. In the case of a chronic illness, this only works when we provide the current state and feedback to our healthcare professionals.
Adopting an endurance mindset when it comes to illness allows us to adapt and maintain resilience, much like we would during a grueling race.
The Universal Application: Beyond Healthcare and Sports
As I drafted this post, I realized this lesson goes beyond healthcare and endurance sports. It can be applied to all service-oriented industries. In retrospect, this approach was foundational to how we built Contegix. We approached every customer as a unique opportunity to help them solve their challenges or tackle their opportunity. In business, the focus is often on customer service and solving the customer’s problem, not just providing a product or service. It means treating each customer as an individual and understanding their unique needs and limitations.