What Makes Us Get Sick? Look Upstream

The job for doctors -- and for us as patients -- isn't just to heal but to figure out what makes us sick in the first place and stop it in its tracks.

The headline comes from a TED conference speech by Rishi Manchanda, who has worked as a doctor in South Central Los Angeles. After about 10 years, he realized, "His job isn't just about treating a patient's symptoms, but about getting to the root cause of what is making them ill-the 'upstream' factors like a poor diet, a stressful job, a lack of fresh air. It's a powerful call for doctors to pay attention to a patient's life outside the exam room."

This story has a WOW factor.

Let me repeat: Dr. Manchanda came to realize it's not enough to treat a patient's symptoms, but to get to the root cause of what makes people sick. Regular readers of Cracking Health Costs will know this is a familiar message. Of all the things that cause us to die too early, medical care can only deal with about 25%. The rest is about how you live your life.

This also explains why typical corporate wellness programs fail. They're trying to ameliorate symptoms but ignore the root cause of syndromes such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. It's not enough to walk into a smoke-filled house and turn on the exhaust fan. You need to put out the fire, too.

Wellness buyers, e.g. benefit managers, need to have the same epiphany as Rishi Manchanda.

I've been writing a series of posts about root causes of illness: loneliness, job stresses, life dissatisfaction, etc. I also firmly believe the time is right to start thinking about employee ailments in an entirely different way.

My next book, An Illustrated Guide to Managing Your Health—How to Improve Your Health in 40 Common-Sense Steps, could well be called, "For better health, look upstream."

Tom Emerick

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Tom Emerick

Tom Emerick is president of Emerick Consulting and cofounder of EdisonHealth and Thera Advisors.  Emerick’s years with Wal-Mart Stores, Burger King, British Petroleum and American Fidelity Assurance have provided him with an excellent blend of experience and contacts.


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