More and more patients are looking for a way to be empowered in their own healthcare. Media interest is growing for the field of lifestyle medicine and every magazine cover seems to have headlines with tips on how to improve health or live fully.
Fortunately, for me, this is exactly what I want. I want everyone to realise that they can be in control of their health and work in partnership with their doctor to maximise their wellness and wellbeing.
This is how I practice medicine as part of my routine general practice. I am not the only one either. Hundreds of doctors are joining the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and other lifestyle medicine movements to enhance their care of patients.
The art is listening to the patient, getting to know how they live and optimising their lifestyle in order to improve or reverse many chronic diseases. This limits the need for medications. It is not anti-pharmaceutical by no means.
There is a place for medications, of course. However, this can often be a ‘plan B’ or temporary measure until the lifestyle measures reverses the need for medications. It is a complete approach to health management, looking at the patient as a whole. The ultimate goal is to improve a patient’s quality of life and enable them to reach their full potential.
Meditation, stress management, sleep, nutrition and physical movement are key areas to review and improve. Other important areas to address are social connection and life purpose. This is all backed by scientific evidence showing it’s effectiveness. It is not alternative medicine but rather, us lifestyle medics feel this should be mainstream medicine and the first step in every patient management in the NHS.
78% of diseases that need a general practitioner’s help have lifestyle factors that contribute towards the cause. This includes heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers to name a few examples. Socioeconomic factors including poverty, poor housing, poor education, access to food, income, safety, and lack of opportunities are also huge determinants of health and pose considerable challenges to creating wellness.
Imagine if everyone in the UK were supported to implement the factors of lifestyle medicine and enabled to and had equal opportunity to live healthily; we wouldn’t have such huge numbers of chronic diseases. Imagine how easy it would be to see your GP. Imagine how much money the NHS would have to spend on rarer conditions or expensive cancer treatments if fewer people needed medicines or interventions.
Why would doctors want to practice lifestyle medicine? 10-minute appointments are already pressured. How can we sort someone’s life out on top of what already needs to be done? The key is to introduce the concept and signpost patients to find more information. One change at a time can be discussed which makes it easier to implement. The patient can then be followed up to ensure it is effective and monitor the effect on health as well as provide ongoing support and encouragement. It’s about developing a supportive partnership and empowering patients no matter what disadvantage they have been dealt in life. It’s not about placing blame or shame on the patient or suggesting someone “chooses their risks”. Lord knows I personally know the impact of being dealt devastating cards in life through my daughter’s story, but having actionable lifestyle habits to put in place gives an element of control, which reduces the anxiety and stress of unpredictability.
Morale is low in healthcare at the moment, in all fields. Practicing lifestyle medicine certainly boosts my morale. It reminds me of why I came into medicine in the first place. To really help people, especially as I work in some of the most deprived areas in the UK. Patients love this approach. They feel listened to and cared for. Job satisfaction doesn’t even begin to explain what joy I get when I have a really good conversation with a patient about using lifestyle medicine to their advantage. Patients come back feeling happy and healthy with improved energy. What can be better than that?
Fortunately, Cwm Taf Morgannwg sees the value in empowering patients with the right tools to improve long-term physical and mental health and so we welcome the WISE (Wellness Improvement Service). We all know changing habits and behaviors are easier said than done so I am so grateful that our patients can have the intensive support of our Wellness Coaches. They really are compassionate, skilled, and holistic in their motivated approach to coaching patients and I am honoured to be in a team with them.
Wishing you happiness and wellness throughout your time with WISE.
Dr. Liza Thomas-Emrus