Happy New Year! Last year, I made a goal for myself to develop skills as a writer. I was fortunate to have a productive year publishing nine articles in the Houston Chronicle, one article in KevinMD.com, and my posts here in this blog.
I have been thinking about the development and direction of my writing for 2018. The process racked my brain. But what I realized is that we are at a remarkable juncture in human history. Globally, mortality rates have improved significantly in just a short 100 years.
This has been a great humanitarian success. But while people are now living longer, this has also increased the prevalence and suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancers. At the same time, global obesity rates have also been increasing which worsened the burden of chronic diseases and cancers.
All of this has put a significant demand on the resources in health care. As a result, a toxic political environment has ensued as governments around the world (not just here) are struggling to figure out ways to pay for rising costs to keep their citizens well. The health policies and decisions have not only impacted patient health but they have also affected physician, nurses, and other healthcare workers causing epidemic burnout rates. In essence, this has all put the well-being of both patients and physicians in peril.
So I asked myself, is part of the problem that we think too narrow in terms of health and well-being? There are many of society’s ills that contribute to health and well-being that can’t be fixed with a pill or a scalpel. More attention is needed in the systemic failures and breakdowns in both our communities and the health care system. I believe “Well-being” in the 21st century will need a more broad and holistic approach, and I think meeting these needs will be a significant but worthy challenge in our time.
So this year, I am dedicating my blog to dive deep to answer two of my big questions. The first question, a more philosophical but a fundamental question, is what is well-being? The second question is what are current major health policies contributing to these systemic failures that threaten the well-being of patients and the healthcare workforce?
For the second question, I am attending the Texas Medical Center’s Health Policy Courses in the evenings for the next four months. The great thing about these courses is that they are free and open to the public. If we care about our health and well-being, then being an informed citizen in health policy is important. If we want to make changes that will improve our well-being and way of life, then having knowledge in health policy is an important step in making intelligent decisions as citizens in a democracy.
For the former question, what is well-being? It is going to take a broader self-directed learning. I am going to look into why having purpose and meaning is a basic element of well-being. I have a particular interest in learning more about well being from philosophers, particularly stoic philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. What can we learn from eastern philosophy like Zen Buddhism (which coincidentally share many similar principles to stoic philosophers)? Is there insight from other cultures that will give us a better way to measure well-being? Do Middle Eastern philosophies like Zoroastrianism or Sufism have different thoughts on well-being?
I’ll also look into psycho-social aspects of well being. For example, what has the field of positive psychology taught us about well-being and health?
What can we learn from sociologists and anthropologists? How do our relationships contribute to well-being? How much does love or supportive relationships affect well-being? Is loneliness really a growing epidemic affecting our health?
I’ll describe how a sense of belonging is critically important for our well-being. Remember, that one of the pillars in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after we meet basic physiologic needs and safety needs, was love and belonging. A sense of community and being proud of your community are important needs for us all and keeps us healthy. Which cultures excel in this and why?
Next, I’ll look into the financial aspects that contribute to well-being? For this, I’ll see what the field of economics has to say about our how our economic choices affect our well-being. Despite living in the richest country in the world, why do so many Americans score poorly in the area of financial well-being? I’ll also explain how the rising costs of healthcare in the U.S. are impacting patients regardless if you have health insurance or not.
Finally, what are the most significant issues to our physical health in the 21st century? Where in the country are people the healthiest and why? What innovations or policy changes will address these issues?
I’ll be posting the answers to these on this blog throughout the year, and I hope it provides some new insight or value so you not only have a better sense of health and well-being but I also hope it helps you have more of it in your own life.
I will also be learning many new things as well trying to answer these questions since they lie beyond the walls of the hospital, and I look forward to learning from you from your comments after I publish these posts.