What do you picture when you think of health care? How different is that from your vision of health? Is it possible to connect these two mental images? Can they be merged directly or at by way of a bridge?
When I envision health, I see images of vitality, vibrant smiles, glowing skin and strong bodies. When I sense health, I feel peaceful spirits, connected hearts, kind actions. When I witness health I am encouraged, supported, inspired.
When I picture health care, I see physicians and nurses in hospitals and clinics, serving from a place of passion. When I sense health care I feel the years of education and training, overnights and hours dedicated to learning. When I witness health care I am engaged, saved, informed.
I recognize that these images are viewed through lenses made rosy by decades of study dedicated to the health and the personal connection to many serving at the heart of the profession along with an awareness of the potential for the greatest good in both. Ever a utopian optimist, as a participant in health care in both delivery and receipt of services, I also appreciate that there are challenges and disappointments, an undercurrent of frustration that threatens to break the dam of a tenuous system, drowning us all in a sea of mistrust, ignorance, overwhelm, cost and waste.
With these filters, the sketch of health care illustrates a backdrop of faceless systems that abuse their staff, dismiss their patients, prioritize bottom lines in profits over people with a disconnect between purpose and production. The sensation becomes oppressive, steeped in wariness of cost, motive and lack of comprehension. We witness ignorance, avoidance and questionable motives.
During fellowship orientation, we reviewed the health rankings of our host state, surprised to find it near the bottom of the nation despite being home to multiple world-class hospital systems. It was a fascinating illustration of the broader definitions of health and a healthy community – and the lack of a direct correlation with either the rosy or the jade(d) lenses of health care.
Is the presence of a quality health care system a component of health? Absolutely. Can access to said health care influence health? Certainly. Are these the whole story or even the most significant influencers of health? No. Health is nurtured and endangered in a vast array of situations and settings. Health care professionals, institutions and systems have roles to play, they are pieces of the puzzle, but the picture is incomplete if we omit environmental, lifestyle and biological aspects of health.
What colors do we need to paint the most vibrant portrait of our health? How can we make space on our palette to include these other key shades? There is room for blending and complement of colors, many made more beautiful by contrasts and adjacencies. Mixing together all tints of expectation and accountability into the single shade of health care system, however, obscures its potential beauty and makes for a drab and ugly shade with limited use in the painting of vitality.
May we look to the canvas with a broader perspective, using the valued shade of health care when necessary and incorporating a dab from each color to create a landscape of health beautiful through any lens.