The Need for an Integrated and Holistic Health Care System

The advances in modern medicine and allied branches like bioelectronics, biophysics and biochemistry have resulted in significant improvement in the care of sick people. Today doctors can take control of many systems in the human body when the need arises. Procedures like ventilation, dialysis and implantation of pacemakers to the heart can control vital functions. If a patient cannot take food orally we can administer all the required nutrients through a vein (Total Parenteral Nutrition) till the patient is able to take orally. We have powerful anti-microbials to fight serious infections. Gone are the days when people used to die of typhoid, cholera and pneumonia in large numbers.

But, there is one aspect which is not getting the attention it deserves-that is maintenance of optimal physical, mental and social health. Modern medicine has often been described as Sickness Industry. It remains a predominantly disease centered and treatment-oriented system even though the subject of Preventive and Social Medicine is taught in medical colleges. The trend among doctors today is to specialize and super specialize. Tertiary level medical care has a glamour attached to it. Cardiologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, cardio-thoracic surgeons and other super specialists are looked upon with awe and the family physicians who should be in the forefront of health care system are relegated to an inconspicuous corner.

While no one can deny that specialized treatment is extremely important for many people, we should never commit the mistake of giving primary importance to tertiary level care and only secondary importance to primary health care. A good health care system should always endeavor to maintain people in optimal physical, mental and social health. We should look upon a person as a whole instead of considering him as an assemblage of many organs. Today psychological problems are on the increase. A person may be examined by a panel of super specialists and declared to be normal physically but he may continue to be sick. Almost all psychological problems can manifest as physical complaints leading to unnecessary tests and medication.

The ancient system of medicine is India-Ayurveda has always stressed the need for leading a healthy life. It also has outlined several procedures for rejuvenating the body and hence is becoming increasingly popular. It makes extensive use of medicinal plants. Many of the drugs used in modern medicine are derived from plants. Reserpine, a drug used for treating hypertension and digixin, a drug used for treating heart failure are a few examples. Many of the Ayurvedic drugs have fewer or no adverse effects compared to modern medicines while at the same time being quite effective in curing many diseases.

Today Ayurveda and Modern medicine (sometimes referred to as Allopathy even though this word is not correct) are being practiced as totally different systems. Both systems have their limitations. In spite of spectacular advances modern medicine has no cure for many diseases afflicting humanity. The treatment of cancer using modern medicines often leads to so many adverse effects that one begins to wonder whether it is worth treating it at all. But modern medicine has unparalleled advantages in the treatment of acute emergencies and management of patients requiring life support systems for a considerable period of time. More research with proper documentation is needed in the field of Ayurveda to get the maximum benefit out of it. Perhaps the time has come to integrate the two systems to give the best of both to the society. It is also important for every country to provide adequate funds for running such a system. If doctors have to spend more time for providing preventive services they have to be properly taken care of by the society. Doctors should also interact with politicians, social organizations and people from different walks of life to identify health problems and take corrective measures instead of confining themselves to their clinics and hospitals, which they have to do for their livelihood when they are not supported by the government. There is no point in simply blaming doctors for becoming business minded without supporting them for rendering preventive services. If we can have such an integrated and holistic health care system “health for all” will not just remain a slogan and a dream but will become a reality.