What is Slow Medicine?

    You might have heard of the slow food movement- well now there’s a slow medicine movement.

    Slow Medicine, Slow Food

    Like the slow food movement, which advocates careful preparation of whole foods that are good for you, this new way of looking at medicine champions the slow, careful approach to healing. Healing should be mindful and intentional, and the process is as important as the result.

    Similarities to the slow food movement don’t stop there. The idea of slow food was created about 20 years ago in direct response to the alarming effects of the fast food culture on modern health.

    What’s Wrong With “Fast Medicine”?

    Slow medicine grows from a concern that modern medicine is too much like an assembly line. You see, modern health care is obsessed with prescription drugs, advanced diagnostic tools, tests, more tests, technology, and hospitals. Doctors treat emergencies quite effectively, but with chronic issues they aren’t as successful.

    Not Enough Focus on Lifestyle Choices

    That’s because chronic issues often involve lifestyle choices, and conventional medicine hasn’t really addressed that at all. Eating right, avoiding stress, exercising, and alternative medicine are often way more effective at treating chronic issues than anything you’ll get from visiting a hospital.

    In fact many aliments which conventional medicine are unable to treat have been successfully treated with alternative medicine.

    Too Many Tests

    Another problem with modern medicine is that doctors today prescribe too many tests. This drives up costs and very often only serves to protect the doctor from being sued. Our health system is over-litigated and hypertechnological as well.

    Not Patient-Focused

    Slow medicine emphasizes close interaction with the patient so careful observation can be done. With slow medicine, there’s time to focus on the entire well-being of the patient. The object isn’t simply to use every medical gadget and run every technological test available, but to find out what’s best for the patient.

    It’s Wasteful

    You may have heard this before, but a large part of emergency room CT scans are totally useless. They only serve to raise costs and waste time.

    Similarly, antibiotics are over-prescribed to the point where we’re all developing a natural resistance to them! What’s worse, being on antibiotics too long can cause a whole separate series of health concerns, like diarrhea. More cost, more time wasted.

    It Views the Human Body as a Machine to be Fixed

    Likening the human body to a machine that needs to be fixed is forgetting that there’s a mind-body-spirit connection affecting our health. We are also mental and spiritual and if one part is sick, the others suffer as well.

    It Overlooks the Special Concerns of the Elderly

    Some modern medical treatments are fine for younger people, but might not be so effective for the elderly. An example might be medication for blood pressure. This can cause some elderly to faint, but for years doctors were writing prescriptions left and right for their elderly patients who had high blood pressure.

    They wouldn’t hear of the fainting because it would happen later at home. Thank goodness people started to step back and view things like this with a wider perspective and incorporate a holistic approach. Now, new guidelines are out, advising those over 60 not to take the medicine unless their blood pressure exceeds 150/90.

    Likewise, lots of medications have stronger side effects in the elderly. They more easily suffer drug side effects such as:

    * swollen ankles

    * lightheadedness

    * low potassium levels

    * elevated blood sugar

    How Slow Medicine is Different

    There are many ways in which doctors are incorporating slow medicine into their practices.

    It’s Low-Tech

    Some proponents have discovered that a low-tech approach is very effective for some segments of the population.

    One of these doctors is Victoria Sweet. She worked with San Francisco’s poorest patients and found that a low-tech approach combined with a human-paced healing with lots of therapeutic touch worked wonders. She describes Slow Medicine as taking the time to talk to patients, examine them several times, talk to other doctors about them, and to pore over test results over and over.

    It’s Human-Paced

    Dr. Sweet’s approach to healing is human-paced, which means rather than trying to be “efficient” all the time, her method allows the health care system time to reflect and make wise, holistic decisions. The doctor pays attention to not just the patient but his or her life, relationships, and everything else affecting their health, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual.

    It Views the Human Body as a Garden to be Tended

    When you see the body as a garden that needs tending rather than simply a machine to be fixed, you’re seeing the wider picture. Health is a process, like growing a crop. It starts at home with what you eat, how you react to stress, your exercise, etc. It’s not simply a machine that has an isolated break-down of a part. Everything is interconnected so we must look at it like a garden, where the soil, the sunshine, the weeds all affect each other holistically.

    It Advocates a Total Approach to Health

    Some doctors who practice slow medicine actually visit people in their homes. This allows them to understand their patients, thus making better decisions for them. There are often overwhelming circumstances which cause people to make poor healthcare decisions, and doctors won’t see that in a clinical setting.

    It Looks at Healthcare as Improving a System, Not Just a Symptom

    Treating symptoms is OK, but unless you get to the underlying cause of the problem, it will come back later. Sometimes it takes a long time for lifestyle changes to take effect. The systemic approach is slower but it’s healthier.

    It Looks at the Emotional and Spiritual Side of Things Too

    Interconnectedness is what this is sometimes called. Take a look at any alternative medicine on earth and there’s some sort of interconnectedness in it. The tangled psychological and social web we live in has a huge effect on health, and slow medicine recognizes this.

    So in the end Slow Medicine may just be a way of saying alternative medicine or a holistic approach. For proponents any of these healing systems, there will be a lot of common ground, and that’s good for the future of healthcare.

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