Throughout human history, health care has been primarily symptom focused. From shamanic potions to robotic surgeries, caring for a person’s health has been unshakably tied to the diagnosable effects of disease. If you weren’t afflicted or ill in a way we could see or feel, you were healthy. As long as you were healthy, you were just waiting to get sick. There was no in-between. This way of thinking is directly connected to the explosion of chronic conditions in America. Six in ten adults have a chronic condition, and four in ten have two or more.1
When people get sick, we focus on “breaking” the fever, surgically removing the tissue, or alleviating the complications, of disease. Approaches that could prevent the need for clinical treatment are somehow thought of as being outside of the common health care system. Even though we’ve known for a generation or more that the causes often far precede the event we’re treating. For example, heart disease is a cluster of chronic conditions that spring up from unhealthy behaviors – being inactive and eating an unhealthy diet to name just two. It has also been the leading cause of death in America for decades.2 We may not think of heart surgery as symptoms treatment, but it is. Much in the way that a fever is a visible sign of an infection, heart disease is an end-product.
As we increasingly prioritize primary, secondary and tertiary* prevention and as we make great strides in uncovering the root causes of disease, we have to consider other factors that affect people’s health. Where do they live – do they have access to healthy food and preventive care? Are they living with emotional stressors? It’s a chain of symptoms stretching from less-than-ideal living situations to unhealthy choices to manifest heart disease to chest pain. We must address each link in the chain, including the social determinants at the very base of the chain. Considering the entirety of the influences on personal health– that’s our job at ActiveHealth.
We start the process of identifying the links by gathering population data from as many data sources as we can. We look at sociology, demography, geography, psychology and physiology. These data and our analytical tools give us actionable insights into each person’s health, related health behaviors and opportunities for improvement. It is these insights that we use to help each individual chart their personalized path to improved health and well-being.
However, working with people is rarely that simple – we can’t simply state the facts and wait for them to act the way we expect. In large groups, we humans may act according to certain sociological or economic principles. But, on our own, we are deeply emotional and don’t always make the choices that serve our long-term best interest. So how do you solve this? How can you motivate people to work for their health when the advantage of doing so (avoiding disease or disability) may not appear until decades from now?
It comes down to individual motivating factors. Some people struggle with follow-through and respond more readily to close guidance. Others only need that initial push to get started. The way to move a population is one person at a time. It takes communication, motivation and intervention blended together in a configuration that works for each person to help them reach their potential.
To be successful in both prevention and treatment, we must understand the unique situations that surround and impact our well-being in order to deliver solutions that can improve it.
* Primary prevention focuses on preventing conditions before they occur. Secondary prevention focuses on preventing the progression of an existing condition. Tertiary prevention focuses on reducing the impact of a condition that has already occurred.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Diseases in America. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm Accessed September 17, 2021.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease in the United States. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm Accessed September 17, 2021.