Doctors who do not practice healthy behaviors and do not exercise are less likely to counsel their patients about improving health practices. Such omissions are a missed opportunity for more effective, safer, and less expensive care, in which patients become empowered to improve their own health.
Physician well-being is also central to the successful functioning of the entire health care system because to do well, you need to be well.
Yet, physician dissatisfaction is high and continues to increase. That is quite concerning because work dissatisfaction depletes energy and can result in burnout, which has personal, professional, institutional, and societal ramifications, including consequences for the delivery of patient care.
Suppose we want improved health outcomes, a better health care experience for patients, and lower costs in an environment of health equity and clinician well-being. In that case, physicians must lead this effort.
This ambitious quintuple aim requires a re-alignment of health care incentives to enable a revision of the health economy. It needs an overhaul of the business school mindset that now so often rules the practice of medicine so we can return to the art and the science of medicine.
Health care providers, particularly physicians, tend to neglect personal health and well-being. To change that, we need to put aside the unspoken code of conduct that demands that physicians carry on no matter what.
We need a more compassionate professional environment to enhance wellness by enabling physicians to assume greater responsibility for their own health and to support their colleagues.
However, inherent aspects of the workplace can predispose to burnout, and studies demonstrate that organizational changes toward a positive health care environment are even more effective than individual efforts.
An aspiration for better health and genuine well-being requires us to explore the factors of health, disease and how these can be optimized in the workplace.
Current workplace approaches can be reoriented toward the prevention of illness and truly thriving in health care. This requires effective change management through physician leadership with integrity, respect, and collaboration through ethical influencing and implementation of lifestyle medicine principles.
The medical discipline of lifestyle medicine uses evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention as a primary approach to prevent, treat, and often reverse chronic disease.
It has six pillars:
- A nutrient-dense, plant-strong eating pattern
- Increased movement
- Sufficient restorative sleep
- A healthier management of stress
- Avoidance of harmful substances and supporting healthy habits
- Making and maintaining good social connections
These principles, integrated into comprehensive health care, help to improve mood, increase positive emotions, and revitalize overall health. They help us add years to life and life to years.
Instead of managing symptoms (generally with medications and procedures), lifestyle medicine primarily deals with the root causes of today’s leading causes of death and disability.
Many of these common conditions — predominantly chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and some cancers — are caused by unhealthy lifestyles. They result in well over 80 percent of all health care spending in the U.S., contributing to a broken health care system.
Lifestyle medicine is part of regular medicine but stands apart in that it is health care that directly benefits patients through the restoration of vitality and health, primarily by lifestyle interventions.
And its healing capacity does not stop there. Because it unlocks the door to health and well-being, its effects reach well beyond patient care, to entire families, communities, and indeed to the lives of health care providers themselves.
Changing the health care system within which physicians work will have positive ripple effects throughout all of health care. It will not only improve their wellness in the workplace — but also optimize patient care. And it will get us closer to the quintuple aim because a rising tide lifts all the boats.
Iris Schrijver is a lifestyle medicine physician.
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