I was working on the Coast this last week and grabbed some soup for dinner at the bar at Mazzotti’s Italian on the Arcata Square. You know you’re old when an attempt to chat with the young person next to you results in you being politely ignored in favor of scrolling through their cell phone.
It worked to my advantage, though, as the person on the other side was a Locum Tenens (traveling) radiologist, originally from South Africa. Predictably, the conversation went to our health care system in the United States.
It’s difficult to discuss just one segment of our health care economics because the system is so broken on so many levels. But on a positive note, I was intrigued by a relatively new wellness platform used in other countries that “encourages and rewards you for living well and provides tool and incentives to motivate you”.
The program is called Vitality. The participant is issued a card that pays you cash when you use the gym and even when you buy healthy foods like salad. His friends had used their funds to buy an international airline ticket annually! I am not sure how many Americans would participate in something like this, since we tend to be rather sensitive about sharing our data (at least when we know it’s being shared).
In fact, I have proposed “wellness programs” to several group clients over the years, but rarely, are they implemented and continued. As the recent Facebook hearings have proven, if we are sufficiently distracted we won’t look too deep into the platforms we use. So maybe there is a future for this type of plan in the US, assuming adequate protections are in place.
Data analytics are extremely powerful in our society. Recently the State Dept. of Public Health released its 2018 California County Health Status Profiles. Sadly, Shasta and the other far northern counties did not fare well. Shasta County was second worst, only to Lake County for all death rates. We did not do much better when the results are broken down among different cancers, coronary disease and Alzheimer’s, with only prostate cancer and flu ranking in the bottom third rather than right at the bottom.
Most of the causes for these health issues are lifestyle in nature. This is most perplexing as we look around at our local natural environment, practically begging us to come out and enjoy its beautiful trails and waterways.
Rotarian Magazine published an article by Joe Queenan titled, “How your brain is keeping your from changing your mind.” In reading this it made me think of how this also translates into changing our behavior.
Queenan shares: “A few years ago, when I was suffering from severe back pain, I consulted a local chiropractor. After several predictably fruitless visits, she asked me to lie on a long, vibrating bed that would help me relax by putting my body in harmony with the vibrations of the planet.
“That won’t work with me,” I told her, gathering up my things. As an alumnus of the Quaker City working class, I held on to my disdain for all things esoteric and mystical and Eastern – yoga, tai chi, transcendental meditation, chutney – for many years until my back pain got so severe that I finally broke down and saw an acupuncturist. I would never have dreamed of doing this were it not for the intervention of a friend, “Wait a minute,” I objected. “Guys like you don’t believe in stuff like acupuncture.”
“If your back hurts enough, you’ll believe in anything,” he replied. The treatment worked; for me, it was a miraculous cure.
But we all know folks who have had heart attacks, bypass surgery and the like, yet continue to smoke, not exercise and eat poorly. This article went on to explain that we are entrenched in our positions about anything from politics to religion to diet, until our brains have actually registered an experienced reflecting a contrary position enough times to rewire it. Perhaps it’s much like muscle memory for athletes. Your brain needs repetitive stimuli in order to learn or change.
Queenan queries: “Little kids are perfectly capable of updating their belief systems and behaviors based on evidence. In fact, they find new and contradictory things really appealing. So why do we stop?”
Are we simply lazy and complacent? Or are we afraid? Unlike the fearless child, we do not want to risk conflict by asking someone who disagrees with us to explain their position. Because then we would have to truly listen, when mostly we just want to espouse our own views. Or more simply, do we just need to be right? We don’t want to exercise because we will be sore for several days.
I guess the bottom line is that nothing worthwhile is easy.