High-Tech Holistic Medicine: Closing The Gaps Between Sick-Care And Whole-Person Care

BY TRISHA SWIFT

In America, sick-care is “doing business as” health care, which is precisely why our health care system is so costly, error prone and fragmented. To be healthy, we must begin to look at ourselves as a whole person and account for all the things that make us unique. This is a different way of looking at health, where we are less concerned with the absence of disease and more interested in the various aspects that make up the whole person. These dimensions include things such as spiritual maturity, emotional well-being, socialization, restful sleep, adequate nutrition, financial security and the many other aspects that make us whole.

If we don’t start demanding more from our health care system, we will continue to spin our wheels creating new drugs and gadgets to ease our symptoms and treat our ailments — instead of addressing the things that make us sick. 

High-Tech Holistic Medicine And Whole-Person Care

The expectations for customized care and precision medicine has, in many ways, given some lift to the whole-person care movement. This movement lends itself well to being supported with digital technologies for fitness tracking, meal planning, guided meditation, virtual exercise classes, and even AI-based behavioral or lifestyle “nudging.” In essence, these high-tech solutions are designed to empower the person so that they can take charge of their own health, and, ideally, not have the need to access sick-care.

Currently, we see a market flooded with options for the health care consumer such that our government is now involved in developing oversight and governance for digital health technologies. The plethora of choices for the health care consumer (while it’s good to have options) can cause frustration and leave them confused on where to begin. This is not the intent of high-tech holistic medicine for whole-person care. 

As our world becomes increasingly digital, high-tech holistic medicine is needed for the viablity of whole-person care. Health care tech leaders should incorporate more use of tech solutions that address the root cause of disease and illness. This is one way for a care provider to share the ownership of health maintenance with their patients. When used effectively, digital health solutions, AI and lifestyle applications can advance the health of individuals, who together create stronger communities and populations. When health scales at the population level, we will organically become a healthier nation as a result. 

The Missing Piece In Sick-Care: Social Care

Health care organizations have been incorporating social care into their population health programs for years. It was 1948 when the World Health Organizationacknowledged the “impact of social and political conditions of health and the need for collaboration with sectors such as agriculture, education, housing and social welfare to achieve health gains,” yet it took another 60 years before the Affordable Care Act was passed to expand health care coverage for low-income earners. The social determinants of health have been topical conversation for a long time, but it hasn’t been until recent years that we have started to apply technology to better understand how these determinants impact health and how we can go about closing the gaps.

Using advanced analytics to better understand the stratification of social determinantsacross populations and communities is one foundational way big data and machine learning have put a dent in addressing the social determinants of health. Another way technology is enhancing whole-person care is in supporting real-time clinical decision-making with AI-generated insights. These insights can be on the individual vulnerabilities and risks as they relate to determinants such as where someone lives or their education level. This caliber of precision in addressing social needs will take population health management (PHM) to the next level.

Zooming in a bit further, traditional PHM workflows include identifying risk as central to creating a person-centered care plan. However, in my experience, it’s not uncommon that care plans are almost exclusively focused on screening for the presence of disease or managing the disease process. As the innovation and transformation leader of a whole-person health management solution, I believe we should broadly apply a WPC approach to population health management. Doing so will enable payers and providers to shift from disease management to disease prevention.

The approach to care for the whole person, should include identifying risk for social vulnerabilities using multidimensional data sets and artificial intelligence. For example, understanding more about access to nutritious food, transportation means, social support or the patient’s willingness to engage in the care plan are just as — or more — important than knowing if their disease is well controlled. Using advanced analytics to incorporate social care into PHM would raise the bar on traditional care planning by layering in deeper, more meaningful insights. These insights would lay the foundation for whole-person care and account for the things that make an individual unique or vulnerable. 

The Takeaway

A whole-person approach can be applied in various ways to prevent disease and illness; technology can accelerate and enable its application. For me, high-tech holistic medicine is what it looks like to deliver whole person care. High-tech holistic medicine can push whole-person care to the bleeding edge of our health care industry to ultimately prevent disease so we can, over time, reduce cost and dependency on the over burdened sick-care system.

Trisha Swift, DNP is the VP of Innovation & Transformation at ZeOmega, a Whole Person Care expert, and an Ayurveda Medicine student at MIU.