Healthcare for the Digitally Overloaded

by Tammy Strobel on April 21, 2011

Photo by Sara Calabro

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sara Calabro. Sara is an acupuncturist and the founding editor of AcuTake, a blog dedicated to improving acupuncture education and access.

We’ve arrived at a point of tension. Technology has enabled possibilities that just 10 years ago seemed unthinkable. And yet these same advancements have deprived us of some of our most basic abilities, instincts and pleasures. This conflict has spurred an ongoing and at-times-heated debate that’s being played out everywhere from the blogosphere to the classroom to the boardroom. However, one area where the topic is being discussed much less than it should be is in healthcare.

Medicine—particularly in the West, but growingly, around the world—has become dominated by an obsession with technology. MRIs, CT scans, and lab tests are ordered before laying a hand on the patient; antibiotics and antidepressants are recommended as quickly as cough drops. Up against insurance billing requirements and overcrowded hospitals, physicians often are forced to favor quick fixes over sound medical decisions. This excessive reliance on technology in medicine has trickled down to patients, causing them to disconnect from the process of staying healthy.

The need is greater now than ever for therapies that derail this trend by encouraging us to consciously participate in our health outcomes. Acupuncture is one such therapy.

Acupuncture is premised on the idea that human beings are comprised of interdependent structures and functions whose condition is affected by emotional and environmental factors. This is very different from Western biomedicine, which assigns symptoms to isolated anatomical structures. The latter approach is to thank for countless life-saving feats in emergency and acute situations. But it falls drastically short in addressing the chronic conditions that perpetually drain our healthcare system’s resources and devastate people’s quality of life.

Greater adoption of acupuncture could help ease this burden considerably. Here’s how:

Acupuncture puts us back in control. Medical technologies such as pharmaceutical drugs force the body toward a particular result—usually temporary reduction of symptoms, often accompanied by side effects—which leaves little room for patient involvement. In contrast, acupuncture engages the body’s own healing mechanisms to address the underlying problem. Essentially, the body directs the medicine rather than the medicine directing the body. This activates our intuitive sense about what’s going on with our health rather than relying on someone else or a machine to tell us.

Acupuncture inspires patience. Technology has birthed and bred an “I want it now” society. With some exceptions, acupuncture does not work overnight, especially for chronic conditions. It is an ongoing process that requires an investment of time and a willingness to let go of assumptions.

Acupuncture combats our culture of excess. The driving idea behind acupuncture is that we’re already in possession of everything we need to be well. Achieving health is not about introducing a new technology; it’s a matter of turning what’s already there into something positive. Learning to conceive of illness and treatment in this way helps prevent dependence and encourages moderation.

Acupuncture can save us money. It’s not just in theory that acupuncture helps curb excess. Widespread adoption of acupuncture could drastically reduce healthcare costs. For over 5,000 years, acupuncture has been keeping people healthy with nothing more than needles and cotton balls. It’s the epitome of case studies in how achieving success is independent from investing in new technology.

Acupuncture encourages gratitude. A healthcare system that’s so heavily reliant on externally manufactured diagnostics and therapies sends a message that we are not enough. Thinking in terms of what we already have rather than what we need is healing in its own right. Acupuncture is inspiring in its ability to remind us of how much potential we already possess.

Tammy talks a lot about the importance of digital sabbaticals. Applied to healthcare, a digital sabbatical is a state of mind. It requires taking a step back—from the medicine cabinet, the sensationalized research headlines, the barrage of pharmaceutical advertising, and sometimes even the doctor’s orders—long enough to ask some important questions. How do I feel? (This is not the same as, what’s my diagnosis?) How is this therapy affecting me? (This is not the same as, did my lab results change?) What would make me feel better? (This is not the same as, I need to refill my prescription.)

Acupuncture, because it demands presence and participation from its recipients, can help answer these questions. It encourages us to think more broadly about health, beyond what mainstream influences have conditioned us to believe. Ultimately, open mindedness and awareness in healthcare will take us infinitely further than the latest technology.

For more information on acupuncture and how it can be used to treat specific conditions, please visit acutakehealth.com.

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