Three Levels of Practice
“The superior physician treats that which is not yet ill. The inferior physician treats that which is already ill”—The Spiritual Pivot (a foundational Chinese medical classic)
Western medicine has achieved astonishing prowess in emergency and acute-care situations, where highly skilled surgical interventions and high-tech advances save countless lives every day. But in routine care and the treatment of many chronic conditions, contemporary medicine often falls short. Under the corporate health care model, it typically treats symptoms, offers palliative care, and manages illness, but commonly fails to cure disease or reverse dysfunction. In good measure because the system will not give practitioners latitude to offer a level of service that conflicts with “productivity” and corporate profits, medicine has often come to bypass underlying causes, neglect prevention, treat patients as passive recipients instead of active participants in their health, and fail generally to account for the whole person. Adopting a more holistic and penetrating approach to medicine takes time, effort, personal engagement, and care—the very attributes the corporate model is set up to discourage.
We in the Consortium prefer to aspire to an entirely different vision of health care, one model of which is found in the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. While TCM does not overlook the “branches” of illness—the symptoms that manifest underlying imbalances—traditional medicine teaches that curing disease also depends on ascertaining and altering the “roots” of ill health, and on the patient’s active inclusion in this process.
But TCM goes beyond this to say that treating illness is actually the lowest rung of the treatment ladder. A higher level of care is to keep illness from developing in the first place—so, maintaining vibrant health through preventive means, including a sound and balanced lifestyle.
In traditional thinking, though, a still higher treatment goal is to foster life extension—helping people achieve a healthy, productive, fulfilling, and wisdom-filled longevity far beyond what conventional thinking believes is possible for most of us. Our limited view is based on observation of the degenerative states that so many elderly people succumb to, but holistic medicine believes very firmly that chronic degenerative disease is not an inevitability even for the very elderly.
It takes a concerted team effort, most definitely enlisting the full cooperation and participation of the individual, to achieve a healthy longevity. But as health care practitioners, we can’t think of any better goal to reach for, or any other way to achieve that goal—or even the more modest aim of fixing a patient’s immediate concerns—than by spending the time and energy needed to figure out what’s wrong, and to design treatments that fit the needs of each individual who walks through our doors.