Whole-person care broadly covers the emotional aspects of health as well as social and economic barriers to well-being. Not surprisingly, in the midst of all the information about holistic effectiveness, there are misconceptions about this type of wellness.
To understand this model of health, it’s important to look at the critiques of this system. By taking an in depth look at these assessments, you’ll be better able to evaluate if whole-person care really is a valid model for healthcare to pursue.
Common views of whole-person care in the United States
Whole-person wellness faces opposition from within healthcare systems and from without. Here are some common perceptions from those whose opinions matter most.
Why healthcare is hesitant to implement it
In the history of healthcare, many alternative “whole-person” or “holistic” medical models have been proposed. Unfortunately, many of these theories weren’t clinically validated and didn’t help and possibly even harmed patients.
As a result, the idea of holistic health has taken on negative connotations to many in healthcare. Because of these negative connotations and alternative medical models, those in healthcare can be wary of whole-person wellness, and rightly so.
The issue with this model, however, isn’t necessarily that whole-person care is unhelpful. Instead, this issue is that what has taken the name holistic or whole-person is often harmful at worst and unhelpful at best. When we refer to holistic or whole-person care, however, we aren’t referring to unscientific methods of treating patients.
The whole person care we talk about at Melon isn’t meant to replace modern medicine or serve as an alternative but should become an integral part of medical models. That’s why whole-person wellness isn’t an alternative method; it’s an integrated model of health that seeks to complement traditional medicine.
By combining the best of social, emotional, and economic health with the best medical approaches to patient wellness, whole-person care seeks to provide patients with a multi-pronged approach to treat their condition.
Other critics of whole-person care note that this holistic approach seems soft in its manner towards life and death issues. Why focus on emotional and economic issues when diseases such as heart failure result in physical distress and sometimes even death?
These are valid points. However, whole-person care equally treats the physical symptoms of chronic illness alongside mental and social health factors. So rather than sidestepping physical symptoms, it treats them from many directions at one time, giving patients multiple ways to improve their medical conditions.
Why patients avoid it
When it comes to chronic illness, patients typically rely on pharmaceuticals, retroactive approaches, and other similar treatments for their disease. While these measures are often needed, the result is that patients aren’t used to engaging with their health. They become a passive observer to what happens to their bodies. And since they already have treatment methods, whole-person care may seem unnecessary to them.
However, whole-person wellness seeks to do more than just eliminate physical symptoms. It endeavors to improve quality of life for patients in the long-run. It also seeks to provide low risk patients with a safety net that can catch potential problems before they develop into high risk situations.
Another reason for patients’ hesitancy with whole-person wellness is that it takes more commitment from them over time. Lifestyle adjustments (like increasing physical activity) are part of the process and often take more time to see results. From the patient perspective, it may seem like lifestyle changes aren’t making a difference at all in the moment.
An added difficulty for patients is care coordination with clinicians. Since whole-person wellness is a daily approach for improved quality of life, communication with medical professionals can be challenging and sometimes feel impossible.
These are valid patient concerns. And if whole-person care doesn’t have an accessible solution, then this isn’t a good model for long-term patient care.
What are the outcomes of these perceptions
The result of these perceptions is that whole-person wellness hasn’t become part of health care. By avoiding holistic measures, however, patients have fewer options when it comes to prevention. Instead, they only get help after their symptoms have become acute, resulting in higher costs and poorer outcomes.
Yet patients who have chronic illness or are at risk for developing chronic conditions could really benefit from whole-person care. When it’s combined with traditional medicine, holistic care has the potential to curb the rise of chronic diseases and improve quality of life.
The effects of whole-person care can potentially lower medical costs while improving patient outcomes especially when it comes to chronic disease prevention. Until negative perceptions are gone, however, whole-person care won’t be able to flourish and improve chronic conditions.
What can we do to fix this
Whole-person care doesn’t happen by accident. It’s an intentional strategy to help patients avoid or delay chronic illness. Implementing whole-person care is somewhat of a top down approach. As health systems encourage whole-person care and provide caregivers with the right tools to incorporate it, clinicians are then empowered to help patients improve their quality of life in the long run.
A practical way that clinicians can implement whole-person wellness is to provide resources that enable easy symptom tracking and communication between patient and medical systems. This care coordination between clinicians, health coaches, and peer “experts” is fertile ground for whole-person health to grow.
For instance, with Melon patients have 24/7 access to health coaches and peer support groups, enabling them to receive medical advice anytime, anywhere. Plus, with this unlimited access, they also receive personalized guidance from coaches who stay up to date with current symptoms and challenges. With small, calculated changes empowered by health coaches and community, patients can make behavioral changes and prevent worsening symptoms.
That said, the right tools make all the difference in integrating whole-person health. With a system like Melon that caters to existing medical systems, clinicians don’t have to alter their workflow to incorporate whole-person wellness into their practice.
Whole-person wellness, while multi-faceted, isn’t always complicated to integrate. By enabling clinicians and patients with tools that fit their lifestyles, improved quality of life is much easier to achieve.
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