Alternative medicine

November 27, 2018

"Alternative medicine" makes me sort of snicker; I think of unlicensed quacks performing voodoo with no scientific basis. A woman I met on a flight earlier this week made me question whether that was fair.

She'd grown up and worked most of her life in Michigan, but came out to Palo Alto to spend her twilight years making California money before she retired. Well into her 60s, she put up with 3-4 hours of commute time each day, to live cheaply while working in Palo Alto, putting as much as she could into her retirement accounts. She worked as a nurse practitioner.

Late-career professionals are always a little jaded, but often in ways that are very insightful. She echoed a lot of the criticisms from Catastrophic Care: namely, that today's health system suffers from minimal patient orientation, preferring to provide reimburseable procedures as quickly as possible, because that's where the money is. And that Medicare makes it worse by paying specialists so much more than primary care physicians.

It got me thinking: I haven't "gone to the doctor" for a general physical in years. I'm sure I could get a knee replacement if I wanted one, but who's ensuring I never need one in the first place? As the son of a clinical dietitian, I think about this often: what is the system doing to keep us healthy day-to-day? Who's looking after the big picture, ensuring not that quadruple bypass surgery is easy to obtain, but that we don't need such expensive, complicated procedures in the first place?

That's when I realized: the only health practitioner with whom I have a real relationship is my massage therapist, Mieze Steinberg. I see her once/month and whether it's helping with Caroline's plantar fasciitis or just getting me to sit straight in my chair, she's the only person looking after my health holistically. The mainstream, insurance-driven medical system completely neglects this.

Whether it's a dietitian, massage therapist, chiropractor, or someone else, these "alternative medicine" practitioners are filling an important role. They are the unsung army working to keep people healthy, keeping us away from diabetes and the operating table. It seems any long-term solution to the out-of-control price of care needs more "alternative medicine", and fewer $350,000/year anesthesiologists and surgeons.