The Chronic Pain of Our Healthcare System

Young African American doctor woman relaxing and smiling with eyes closed doing meditation and mudra

Pretty much everywhere in the world, we’ve watched our healthcare systems struggle under the crushing weight of the pandemic. Sure, it’s important to applaud the heroic efforts of healthcare workers and cheer them on. But what they really need is relief from a dysfunctional healthcare system, which are suffering from their own particular kind of chronic pain.

Earlier this week, the British Journal of General Practitioners released a report called “GP Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: a Systematic Review” which confirms what we all already know.  Doctors worldwide are stressed, depressed, anxious, and burned out. It’s not just docs, of course. Many of the allied health professions are suffering.

Our Stressed-Out Healthcare System

Stressed young female doctor looking at laptop reading bad news online worried of mistake at workplace.Title Text: Unhappy professional physician feeling tired and tense.

Our healthcare system is a ship sinking under its increasing allostatic load. In the U.S., burned-out clinicians have led the way in the “Great Resignation.” The Bipartisan Policy Center’s blog “Help Wanted: Health Care Worker Shortages” reports that one in four healthcare workers considered leaving their job since the onset of COVID, with 14 percent of respondents saying they were considering leaving the healthcare industry altogether.

This industry, already severely understaffed, will need an extra 124,000 physicians by 2034 and over one million new registered nurses by 2030 to keep up with the demand. It’s a huge, stressed-out workforce that could seriously use some yoga.

The healthcare system has been suffering since way before the pandemic. But it’s often a crisis that wakes us up to the procrastination, denial, cynicism, and/or ignorance that lie at the root of our problems. A report released by the Commonwealth Fund last year, “Health Care in the U.S. Compared to Other High-Income Countries” reported that out of 11 wealthy countries, the U.S. is at the very bottom of the list having both the highest infant mortality rate (5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births) and lowest life expectancy.

We are so not number one.

5 Pain Points in the U.S. Healthcare System

Senior couple exercising with therapist on yoga mat at home. Home assistance, physiotherapy, healthy lifestyle

The report identified five major “pain points” in the system

  1. Access to care
  2. Care process
  3. Administrative efficiency
  4. Equity
  5. Health care outcomes

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation.” To put it bluntly, a country that fails to take care of its sick and vulnerable seriously lacks any sort of moral backbone.
The U.S. healthcare system has been in crisis for decades and the chronic pain that’s ensued from our inability to create sustainable, affordable, universal healthcare not only reflects a deeply entrenched grift, greed, responsibility shirking, and heartlessness, but it has also resulted in a terribly unhealthy population.

5 Drivers of Our Healthcare Crisis

A recent article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Reimagining the US Public Health Sector”  identified five drivers behind the healthcare crisis:

  1. Lack of understanding about public health and prevention
  2. Low levels of social cohesion
  3. Decreasing trust in institutions
  4. Persistent structural racism
  5. Polarization and politicization

“If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone, ‘America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.’” – Will Rogers

The Solution to an Ailing Healthcare System

Meditation and breath work as a healthy concept.

The solution is of course complicated and requires a massive shift in perspectives, priorities, values, and leadership across sectors. One initial shift will be acknowledging the reality that health isn’t created entirely by the healthcare system. Yoga, particularly Dinacarya (yoga lifestyle recommendations), is a powerful, ancient health promotion and prevention strategy which has a lot to offer to this conversation.

The Rand Corporation’s recently released report, “Incorporating Complementary and Integrative Health Providers in the Public Health Pandemic Response” found that practitioners of complementary and integrative health (CIH) were an “underutilized public health asset in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” While the report was intended to layout best practices for integrating CIH practitioners into future public health emergencies, it may also be a sign that it’s time for the yoga profession to step up.

How Yoga Teachers Can Help Our Healthcare System

Young latin physiotherapist in healthcare uniform holding yoga mat at clinic

Yoga teachers often tell me that they want to help more, that they don’t have enough students, that they want to reach more people, and that they’re not sure how to find the folks who need what they offer.

Since we don’t have any licensure for yoga professionals yet (and it may not be the best route for everyone anyway), one route for yoga professionals may be to become Community Health Workers. This is typically an 80 to 100-hour training, depending on the state. Community health workers can provide support in a variety of ways, but a key role is in their focus on the health of whole communities, not just individuals.

Can you imagine what would happen if the Community Health Worker world was populated with yoga teachers? How would that begin to transform the system from the inside out in a grassroots way?

Yoga professionals have an opportunity, right now, to help reduce the long-haul suffering of the healthcare system. We need to begin to actively engage with health systems, leading with our evidence base (particularly for chronic low back pain). Prevention is increasingly coming to the forefront as an important piece of the healthcare puzzle. Again, it seems to be a crisis that wakes us up to an obvious reality.

What if yoga professionals stepped out of the fitness box and started reconceptualizing ourselves as community health leaders? What do you think? How can yoga expand beyond its exclusive silo and get out into the world?

Reprinted with permission from Subtle Yoga/Kristine Kaoverii.

c-iayt certification logoCommitted to the widespread adoption of yoga as a population health strategy, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, eRYT500, YACEP has been studying yoga and holistic healing for nearly 30 years advocating, speaking, and teaching about yoga since 1995, and training educators since 2003. Her organization, Subtle® Health, LLC, provides holistic, mind-body training, education, and clinical services with the mission of enhancing community health infrastructure. She is the director of the Subtle® Yoga Teacher Training for Behavioral Health Professionals program at MAHEC in Asheville, NC, presents workshops and trainings internationally, and is frequently invited to speak about yoga at health care conferences. After completing her BA and MA at Georgetown University, Kristine trained extensively in many styles of yoga, including Viniyoga, as well as in Asian bodywork therapy and homeopathy.

She is the author of The Complete Self Massage Workbook and has published articles in the International Association of Yoga Therapist’s journal, Yoga Therapy in Practice, and other wellness publications. Her work has been featured in Redbook, BodySense, Women’s World, Natural Health, and Lifetime TV.

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