by Dr. Amy Myers
Why is Functional Medicine so Important Now?
Aside from the shortcomings inherent in conventional medicine’s approach, several trends are creating a “perfect storm” of crisis in the healthcare industry. The prevalence of chronic illness is rising, as are the costs to treat chronic conditions. This predicament is highly profitable for many big industries, so it’s not in their best interest to find a solution to these problems. Let’s take a closer look at these factors.
Increasing Prevalence of Chronic Illness
More than half of older adults actually have three or more chronic conditions. This is concerning because about 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day from now through 2029 and are facing a reduced quality of life.
Although there is a genetic component to many chronic illnesses including autoimmune disease environment, diet, and lifestyle are 75% of the cause of autoimmune disease. And if you have one, you are three times more likely to develop another. A magic pill isn’t going to do the trick.5
Experts estimate that chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide in 2020. The number of people in the developing world with diabetes will increase more than 2.5-fold, from 84 million in 1995 to 228 million in 2025. In 2000, the World Health Assembly requested that countries work together to prevent and control noncommunicable diseases, yet little progress has been made.6
Rising Healthcare Costs
In 2015 healthcare spending in the US reached $3.2 trillion, accounting for 17.8% of GDP. More than 86% of that is due to chronic conditions. This exceeded the federal expenditures for national defense, homeland security, education, and social programs combined. Spending on healthcare is projected to outpace economic growth, rising at least 5% in 2020 over 2019.7,8
In fact, the U.S. spends twice the median per-capita cost on healthcare than other industrialized countries spend.9 This is despite having minimal impact on the problem of chronic illness. Chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis lead to hospitalization and long-term disability, both of which are costly.
Profits Before Patients
Medical doctors take the Hippocratic oath upon receiving their medical licenses. This is an oath motivated by genuine care for humanity and builds trust in doctors.
Yet in many cases, their hands are tied. Pressure is placed on physicians, for example, to cut down office visit time. This impacts the quality of your care.
However, increasing profit now drives many of the new players — big business — in healthcare. As the stakes increase, healthcare is increasingly attractive to less altruistic groups. These stand to profit from illness and to push more expensive treatments rather than looking to natural and alternative therapies. In fact, two of the world’s largest companies — Amazon and Google — are now entering the healthcare market.
Less Customization and Choice
Due to consolidation in the industry, our current healthcare system also offers less customization and fewer choices than ever. Very large merged groups of physicians, pharmacies, and insurance companies manage our healthcare. This consolidation gives you, the consumer/patient, less choice for high-quality care. It also bolsters healthcare costs by preventing a competitive market.
Three firms now account for two-thirds of pharmacy benefit management — the third-party administrators for prescription drug programs. Additionally, the insurer Aetna and CVS Health, whose business includes retail, health clinics, and pharmacy services, recently merged in a $69- billion deal.
As we’ve seen, conventional medicine relies heavily on prescription medications. Choices in what medications you can access are reduced because insurance companies such as Aetna, not your doctor, decide what to cover. Even in where to get the prescription filled (goodbye corner pharmacy, hello CVS) is becoming more and more limited.
More recently, Google announced it is teaming up with insurer Oscar. Amazon joined with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase with the intent to enter the healthcare industry. These are just a few examples of large companies entering the healthcare marketplace.10 I’ll get back to Google and Amazon in just a minute.
Lack of Privacy
We are accustomed to the medical records in doctor’s offices and hospitals being highly secure. This is because of HIPPA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996. This act requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information.11
Yet, despite HIPPA laws that have long protected our personal health information, there is a whole new realm left unprotected. Our electronic devices such as our laptops and our apps are not protected!
Let’s take Project Nightingale as an example. In this initiative, Google is collecting and analyzing the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states. The initiative appears to be the biggest effort yet by Google to gain a place in the healthcare industry through the handling of patients’ medical data.12 This places our healthcare information in the hands of big business, instead of physicians.
Amazon has also built a team to see how their Alexa product can be used for healthcare. They want to collect information about how we live through smart devices. Alexa is being developed to take blood pressure, detect when we are sick, and to advise on medications.13 As I’ve said much time, you know your body best — and certainly better than an artificial intelligence device does.
This lack of privacy is a cause for concern. Improper access to Individual health information may lead to discriminatory restrictions on access to healthcare or life insurance. “The information that consumers reveal to health apps can be especially personal and can also find their way into users’ health scores, which are used in insurance underwriting, and in other ways a consumer would not expect,” says Dena Mendelsohn, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports.
Because of this, you should read the privacy policies for all medical-related apps so you can be sure your information is protected. Set your privacy on your wireless devices to secure.14 We all deserve the freedom to seek medical care without limitation or discrimination based on data mined from our electronic devices.