Is your physician a doctor?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

February 2013

The term physician means healer or comforter; a doctor is a teacher or learned person. In the last century the terms became interchangeable but perhaps it's time to separate them again or even better, to encourage all physicians to become doctors.

Physicians these days spend nearly all their time in making diagnoses, prescribing medications and performing surgical procedures. It is not an exaggeration to state that approximately 90 percent of the conditions that require treatment would not develop if patients knew how to prevent them and actually took the steps to do so. The problem, of course, is that healthcare insurance pays for treatment but almost nothing at all for education and prevention.

Physicians shouldn't shoulder all the blame. All of us who are or who have been in practice have plenty of experience with patients who don't follow our advice to lose weight, stop smoking and get more exercise even though those three simple steps would, without exaggeration, eliminate most of the disease burden that we are increasingly unable to afford.

The major killers, coronary artery disease, stroke, chronic lung disease and type 2 diabetes, once established, are simply incurable. Changes in lifestyle can slow them down and reduce the complications but damaged heart muscle will never return to normal, the body will never replace brain cells killed by a stroke and the kidney that has been damaged by years of high blood sugar as seen in diabetes can only go downhill.

Prevention occurs early in life. In fact, it begins in the womb.

We need a new national mindset. For example, obstetricians' offices need to become education centers in order to prevent the rapid increase in gestational diabetes. When blood sugar is too high during pregnancy, almost always in women who are overweight or obese, the infant is at risk of developing birth defects and breathing problems. Not only are these mothers likely to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes a few years later, so are their infants when they grow up.

If physicians are too busy to teach their patients good health habits, others can be hired to do so. No patient should ever leave a physician's office or a hospital without knowing why they got there and how to avoid the same problem. Every routine check-up should include a few minutes of wellness education.

We need to transform healthcare, not tweak it. The youngest generation deserves it.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.