As time passes, and the coronavirus continues to spread with a rising death toll, we must ask ourselves, what do we need to learn during this pandemic? Any event with this level of magnitude arrives as a lesson for humanity. To gain insight, will require us to apply self-reflection, critical thinking, and a large measure of common sense to learn what we need for transformation to take hold. Time and time again, we have learned that sometimes the best solutions for complex problems are simple ones. This pandemic has brought many feelings to the fore. For many, it has triggered fear, confusion, and helplessness. For others, conflicting belief systems, different sides of politics, whether or not to wear masks has taken precedence, and yet underneath the varied amplifications that this pandemic has triggered, it has affected a much-needed global reset to evaluate what is truly important and meaningful in life.
For the Medical community, this time has brought much to the fore. Now more than ever, it is critical to follow enduring scientific evidence and to fortify Medicine’s fundamental foundational principles. Medical evidence is not a belief system. Belief has no place in health care. As physicians, we are taught to distill and interpret evidence, and we must practice evidence-based medicine and educate our patients to promote their health and well-being. This is sacred work and requires diligence, discernment, and a sustained effort. It also requires sacrifice. As physicians, we have a responsibility to ‘sacrifice’ public opinion for what has been shown to be true. It also requires flexibility, so we can amend our ideas of evidence-based ‘truth’ when new evidence uncovers the limitations of previously held theories.
Healthcare today is faced with many problems. We have repeatedly heard how broken our healthcare system is and why it needs to transform. I would like to add my personal experience to this opinion.
Over the past few decades, the intention of corporate medicine shifted from patient care to profit, altering its emphasis from caring for patients to viewing patients as ‘consumers’ and commodities. Understanding that the business of medicine is necessary for this system’s survival, using patients and physicians to make money at the cost of care and choosing treatments that offer a greater profit margin in lieu of safer and more effective methods, has eroded the public’s trust in the current healthcare system. Insurance companies have added yet another layer to the corporate model, withholding payments for promised services to patients, as well as withholding payment for services rendered by physicians. Nearly two decades ago, this shift witnessed a movement of physicians from private practice to hospital employment. The price they paid was grave. Unbeknownst to them, they were required to sacrifice their integrity of practice for corporate profit. This was the root cause of the loss of trust patients suffered towards healthcare. Today, this distrust has a great impact on the manner in which the public is responding to health care’s representation of the COVID pandemic.
Once broken, trust is difficult to restore without a radical transformation in behavior. Without trust, public opinion about medical issues replaces scientific evidence, causing potentially harmful theorizing and decision-making to take hold. Left to their belief systems that are influenced by fear, public opinion cannot provide the needed protection when medical evidence is cast aside. In fact, it can be dangerous for both personal and collective health.
Since the pandemic began, I have been appalled at medical proclamations about COVID19 which are released to the public without rigorous auditing known as peer review. Once reviewed, the vast majority of the unaudited conclusions have been retracted, further shaking public trust. During a pandemic, the global collective is in fear and looking for ways to stay healthy and heal quickly, if infected. But the health care system, rife with decades of fundamental conflicts of interest, has not been able to lead the way with scientific integrity during this infectious disease crisis, after decades of business practices that have been out of alignment with its essential mission. The lack of public trust in Medicine, from this context, is understandable, and no surprise given the lengthy history of its money track. What I believe we are experiencing are the symptoms resulting from the deep-rooted illness that has infected health care for decades – its emphasis on profit at the cost of care.
As one who walked away from corporate medicine with its inflated salary and golden handcuffs decades ago, I vowed to practice from the integrity of the scientific method in which I was trained and which was also based on the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and a high standard-of-care. Believe it or not, Medicine once practiced from this platform. It has been difficult in many ways to run a solo practice from this essential platform but the meaning I derived from this form of practice more than offsets the challenges it presents.
I have observed how corporate medicine has handled the COVID pandemic. I am appalled by the lack of support the system has provided for physicians who are risking their lives to save their patients. We all know the dangers they have been subjected to due to a shortage of PPE, safe practice environments, and the threats towards them restricting their freedom to voice fear and anger resulting from the injustice with which they are being treated. This is in the hospital environment, but what about the community? We have not heard en masse, the importance of preventive measures which have gone virtually ignored during the COVID pandemic. Decades of medical evidence show that supplements such as Vitamin D, broad-spectrum probiotics, zinc, healthy lifestyle choices, and stress reduction are vitally important as antivirals and immune enhancers. Instead, these have been ignored in favor of conventional methods of treatment, with emphasis on treatments for the hospitalized, the promise of a vaccine, and means of preventing death. This emphasis has created fear and confusion without instruction or guidance in choices people can make to subvert the mechanism of Sars-CoV-2 assisting people to improve their health and their prognosis if infected.
Where do we go from here? How do we assist our communities to stay healthy? The threat of comorbidities is a prognostic indicator so we must educate our communities to make healthier choices that not only prevent them but also reverse them. Now more than ever, we must apply what we know to present healthier choices to our patients and communities. Overwhelming evidence has shown that our choices do matter and can make a difference between health and illness, life, and death.
COVID-19 is a virus whose course is directly impacted by lifestyle choices. It is old news that our immune systems’ capacity to fight infection is directly impacted by these choices. Recently, researchers have shown that the body’s T cell response is an important indicator of the severity of infection. In fact, this is the direction in which vaccine research may be headed. T cells not only assist B cells in antibody production, but they also have a direct destructive effect on viruses. The strength of the T cell’s response is directly impacted by our lifestyle choices. In fact, these choices can also reverse (or create) comorbidities. Prior to a disease manifesting, how we choose to eat and live impacts the function of all of our body systems. Our choices can lead to an illness, and if altered, can result in health. When we state that the elderly have a poorer prognosis when infected, we fail to mention that the elderly are generally low in vitamin D, which impacts prognosis from COVID and other infections. The elderly who exercise, eat a plant-based diet, have an adequate level of Vitamin D, have a much better prognosis than those who don’t. It has been shown in the elderly that 6 weeks of exercise and a plant-based diet can enhance immune response. We also know that alcohol depresses (innate) immunity, and disturbs sleep. A plant-based diet enhances immunity and promotes good sleep, zinc has antiviral activity, and daily food choices impact our health.
We must stop making generalizations about age groups and be more precise and empowering in our instructions to society and also mention how choices as simple as those mentioned above impact prognosis. Making general statements by the medical system leaves a society with fear and helplessness, which is irresponsible on the part of the medical system. We must focus on evidence-based means of assisting our patients so they can be empowered to make the needed adjustments in their lifestyles to improve outcomes and restore health. When facilitated in this way, our communities can become healthy once again.
I believe now is the time when the education of this nature and magnitude can save millions of lives. Uncovering the mechanism of a virus is only as valuable as our ability to understand how to subvert its survival in our body. We know enough about the immune system to be able to understand how to do this, and a shift in our choices will not only repair our personal and collective epidemic of comorbidities but will even alter the trajectory of morbidity and mortality from COVID. Occam’s razor, an idea used in medicine means, “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”
In the final analysis, the simplest solution to COVID may be a matter of choice. Our choices do matter and we must bring consciousness to them not just to survive this pandemic, but to evolve towards a healthier future. Maybe the cure for COVID19 indeed is consciousness. Maybe this pandemic is a call for us to gain insight and choose wisely. Maybe if we applied consciousness to promote health, it can be a means for us to be unified beneath our differences of opinion rather than polarized and divided. Our choices always matter and informed and conscious ones can truly save us.
©Aug 2020 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center For Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment. During this time of the COVID19 pandemic, she is offering both telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms.