The Personal Touch to Global Health

June 11, 2014

I spent the past week exploring traditional (Eastern) vis a vis Western approaches to healthcare. I most often focus on organizations, but it’s good to focus on, and be reminded of, on a regular basis of the importance of the individual (beneficiary). Tying the individual to the whole, and the local to the global is something we don’t do as often as perhaps we should. Reflecting on the impact of traditional and Western approaches of medicine on the individual, provided some lessons that I believe are applicable in many different areas:
1) Good ideas can come from anywhere – Although there is much that Western medicine knows from an evidence base as ’truths’ (bone structure, organ and body mechanics, etc..) there are also aspects to disease and healthcare that Western medicine does not know with any degree of certainty. Traditional approaches to the impact of the mind on the body for example can add an important piece to the puzzle of how an individual might respond to disease. This connection is something that traditional approaches stress and Western approaches often view with skepticism. Although studies are still somewhat in their infancy, there is some preliminary evidence that a patient’s mindset may help in fighting some diseases. We tend to get caught in our own training or mindsets and are less open to considering different ideas and approaches than we often think we are.
2) Cause and effect can be hard to determine – As a patient gets better it can be hard to (short of surgery) know which intervention made the difference – was it a change in diet? a particular medicine (herbal or synthetic)? etc… It is the same with many service programs. Exploring different types of impact measurement (qualitative as well as quantitative) might help us to come closer to some of our attempts to see how and why we might be making a difference.
3) The personal touch – Everyone is different. Although there are certainly medical truths, and patterns to how groups of individuals may respond, how any individual responds can still be a mystery to medical science. It’s an important reminder that even as a project may scale-up, the local context must always be considered, and impact on individuals always be kept in mind.