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Soulful Sundays: Group Health

When I was in grad school I had the pleasure of being taught by an exceptional teacher. Not only was he talented in the practice of Chinese medicine, he was adamant about breaking down the barriers to people getting the treatment they needed. In service of this passion he left his comfortable career as an acupuncturist and enrolled himself in medical school, taking on all of the work and risks therein. His ultimate goal was to be able to offer group health visits to patients, thus saving time and money, and creating a community of people unified in their pursuit of a similar goal. Getting healthier. Together.

Group health is not a new concept. Humans are obligate social creatures. We survive best in healthy and mutually beneficial relationships and the more power discrepancy that exists, the more unstable these relationships become. One of the most alarming gaps of power exists in the current model of Western medical care. The 'providers' of medicine are siloed away behind a firewall of regulations, insurance red tape, and institutional greed; so much so that they spend very little quality time with patients. This limits the provider's ability to gain useful information from patients, but, more profoundly, it limits the patient's ability to get the help they need. Doctors are quick to doll out medication and surgeries instead of working with patients to develop better habits and lifestyle choices. Enter the the benefits of group health.

Imagine that you have Type 2 diabetes. You have had it for over a decade and are on a handful of medications, and the list seems to get longer every office visit. You know that diet and exercise are important to help you get better (and your medical providers know this too) but the steps to implementing these lifestyle changes have never been clearly outlined for you. Yes, there are support groups in place to help you and plenty of information online, but why are your medical providers not helping you? You are paying them after all. Is it because they are not prepared to help? Because the system isn't designed for this kind of help? Or because they make more money seeing you for 5 minutes and then sending you out the door with the next medication or surgery? Perhaps it is some combination of all three.

Now imagine this scenario. The very first visit that you have with your medical provider is in a group setting with 5 other people who have also been living with Type 2 diabetes. The doctor spends an entire hour with the group explaining the disease, emphasizing the need to change lifestyle habits, engaging with the group on successes and failures that they have experienced, addressing the fears that people might have, and outlining a path forward. You learn from others who are in similar situations, gain a support group to help you stay accountable, and enter into more group programs that will get you closer to your goals. After an hour you feel listened to, helped, and enthusiastic. You sign up for a group exercise class, a nutrition class, and community acupuncture. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, you realize that group health classes are actually more affordable than standard office visits.

Which of these two scenarios sounds like it would be more effective? The answer already exists in the statistics, in the wake of the collateral damage that our current healthcare system has left behind. It is time to embrace a different solution. To stop paying for sub-par service and demand more from our medical providers. In my experience with community acupuncture I have seen and helped more people than I could have ever done in an individual setting. There is a multiplicative power in group health. I hope that you will come away from this post with a few questions for your current provider and the knowledge that a different solution is out there.

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