Wellness care is sometimes described as “complementary” to traditional medical care. But what if it was raised to the level of “primary care,” meaning wellness providers would see patients as family doctors?
Actually, this has already been done. The results were pretty astounding. In 1996, a large Chicago-based HMO broke the mold and began offering primary wellness care to its clients. Rather than just managing medical care differently, it offered true wellness care, delivered by chiropractors. The clients were allowed to choose chiropractors as their “primary care providers” or family doctors. The chiropractors ordered all the necessary tests, monitored their patients’ health and referred to specialists as necessary. They also stayed true to their wellness philosophy, treating patients using only natural means — manipulation, acupuncture, lifestyle changes and herbal remedies. Any patients who needed drugs or surgery were sent to a medical provider.
The chiropractors went through additional training to ensure they were able to work with the company’s medical providers and the hospitals in the area.
After seven years, the average costs per patient for the wellness providers were compared to the costs for the traditional medical providers. The results were nothing short of amazing. The overall expenses for the wellness doctors were 60 percent less than their medical counterparts. Their patients reduced prescription drug use by a whopping 85 percent, and hospital admissions by 60 percent.
Welcome to the health care of the future.
It is telling that the chiropractors were able to handle — or perhaps even better, prevent — a large majority of their patients’ health problems without drugs or surgery. When the patterns of doctor visits were examined, an interesting trend showed up. Most patients saw their medical providers about once every 16 months. But the chiropractic patients were seen much more often, perhaps a few times a month, especially initially. This is because they were actually getting treatment from their providers, not just a prescription. These wellness treatments seem to have replaced the need for many prescriptions, tests and surgeries, even hospitalizations.
Wellness care is very safe; injuries from manipulation or acupuncture are rare, especially when compared to medical treatments. If such care is able to reduce prescription drug use by 85 percent, that will lead to a big reduction in drug-related injuries and deaths in those patients who choose it. Reducing medication use, and especially interrupting the “prescribing cascade,” where a drug is given to treat side effects of another medication, might be one of the biggest benefits of wellness.
The lead author of the Chicago study, himself a medical doctor, was unable to publish the article in medical journals. One editor was quite honest with him, saying in his rejection letter, “We cannot publish an article whose conclusions are so hostile to conventional medicine.”
We need to overcome this “turf war” mentality if we are to make fundamental changes in health care. Wellness care has a proven track record of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and safety. Until it is taken seriously, we will continue to rely on drugs and surgery to meet our health care needs. This is expensive, dangerous and not very effective.
Our health would be better served if wellness care were given a leading role, rather than relegated to the sidelines as a “complementary” form of health care.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.