Technology in health care: Is medicine really evolving?


Evolution is part of life, something we accept as a fact and evidenced by the changes we see and know compared to hundreds of years ago. No one can dispute the great technological advances that have been made; transport has been revolutionized from the animal power of horse and cart to the mechanized systems of train, plane and automobile we have today.

Communication systems once reliant upon the written word and postal service are today instant through email, telephone, Skype, and FaceTime. Radio, television, computers, tablets, iPads and iPhones are all instant sources of information and entertainment. We can ask Google any question on earth and get an answer — of sorts — from how to cook potatoes, the best way to get from New York to Dublin and how to treat piles or colon cancer and everything else in between and beyond. And of course, man can literally fly to the moon; surely all evidence of the fact we have evolved and are continuing to evolve?

Medicine has also been transformed and is considered to have evolved significantly since the days of bloodletting and releasing of evil humors. We now have the most in-depth knowledge ever regarding anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, anesthesia, surgery and I could go on; we know more and more about each and every part of the organs that make up the whole human being. So much so, that we have specialists, physicians, and surgeons, for virtually every organ and system.

Yet, despite all these great advances, we seem to be getting sicker!

Obesity, diabetes, and mental ill-health to name a few are all increasing and each one alone could cripple the health economies in years to come. Certain cancer incidences are rising: with a 1 in 3 risk of each of us getting cancer in our lifetime. This isn’t just due to people living longer thus getting more diseases; people are also getting sicker at a younger age with increasing numbers of people having multiple conditions or multimorbidity.

We champion living longer as evidence of our progression and our evolution, but what is the quality of that living longer? Is it really progress to spend the last 10 or 20 years of life medicated up to the eyeballs, or perhaps in a nursing home, doubly incontinent and not knowing who you are or who anyone else is either? We celebrate and prioritize longevity over quality; but which would you prefer? With a few exceptions, we do not seem to have mastered longevity with quality to date.

Taking everything into consideration, we would have to say that if we were to use the human body as a marker of evolution, we are not winning. Indeed, perhaps it could be said we are involving, not evolving. Surely, with the most advanced healthcare systems, technology and knowledge about the functioning of the human body ever to grace planet earth, the rates of illness and disease should, if anything, be decreasing not increasing? Would that not be a more true marker or indicator of evolution and progress than flying to the moon or the megabyte capacity of our computers or the speed we can fly across the world or download to our computers?

Of course, let us not stop at the health of the human body, but what about the health of human relationships? What do the rates of wars, violence, terrorist activity, rape, pedophilia, murder, domestic violence, child abuse, corruption, fraud, financial impropriety, workplace bullying, harassment, emotional disharmony, relational stress, family discord and more tell us about whether we are evolving or involving?  You decide.

Whilst this is not to decry technological advances, is it possible we champion the tallest skyscraper, the fastest computer, the smallest camera, the fastest plane, the heart bypass machine and the myriad of technological advances in order to not stop and feel the extent of the worldwide violence, abuse and devastation of man fighting against man, whether that is due to a war of countries or a war in the workplace or the home; to not stop and feel the levels of rot in our own bodies as we abuse them with overeating, alcohol, drugs, junk food, stimulant drinks, excess sugar, toxic thoughts, emotions and more?

If we are to use man’s inhumanity to man, including our relationship with ourselves, as a marker of progress and evolution, then we have surely failed that test also. Is it really progress to go from a weapon that kills one by one, to one that can wipe out hundreds or thousands in a single blow? The relationship with ourselves is the foundation of the relationship we have with everyone and everything else including our bodies; so again the rates of illness and disease tell us that we are not as evolved as we like to think we are.

Can we truly say medicine has evolved and progressed when it continues to treat the many parts as parts, without consideration to the whole being those parts belong too? Plato said it over 2,000 years ago: “The part can never be well unless the whole is well,” and whilst medicine is very good at the medicine of parts, it seems to have forgotten about the whole. For true progress and evolution to occur in medicine and amongst mankind we must resurrect the whole human being, for it is only by knowing and understanding the whole can we truly know why the parts become unwell or diseased.

This means understanding not just the body-mind as medicine tends to focus on, but all dimensions: body, mind, heart, spirit and soul, or the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual realms. We cannot hope to have a medicine that truly heals, evolves and progresses mankind as long as we continue with the fragmented medicine of parts that ignores the whole those parts belong to. And the most fundamental understanding of the whole human being we need to have and which modern medicine ignores completely and considers a taboo and unscientific even to mention, is that the essence of every human being is love.

How unnatural is it then for us to be terrorizing, bombing, shooting, abusing, dehumanizing, arguing, judging, fighting, gossiping, demeaning, bullying or behaving in any way that is unloving towards ourselves and each other? This includes all the ways we harm ourselves and our bodies through our negative self-critique, our judgments, our self-loathing and all the abusive and toxic ways we treat our body with drink, food, emotions, hard ways of living, moving and exercising, being tough and aggressive and much more…when in fact our bodies love to be treated with tender, loving care in all ways.

Imagine, or consider, perhaps even contemplate and ponder, how different the world and the rates of illness and disease might be if we had made the same progress in the depth of love, care, nurturing, kindness, gentleness, appreciation, regard, respect for ourselves, our bodies and each other as we have made with technology over the last 100 years?

Eunice J. Minford is a general surgeon in the United Kingdom who blogs at the Soulful Doctor.  She can be reached on Twitter  @thesoulfuldoc.

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