We live in a country where health disparities are so severe that your zip code can predict your lifespan.
But poor health outcomes are often the result of more than the neighborhood you live in; social isolation, loneliness, even a loss of faith and hope can all impact a person’s well-being.
It is crucial for people working in healthcare to listen to and respond to patient concerns and priorities and to address the many factors that contribute to a person’s overall well-being. This means that medical professionals must treat the person as a whole.
Whole person health care is an approach to care that considers physical, mental, social and spiritual health as we work to improve health outcomes. This approach will make health care more equitable.
Currently, our healthcare system is not living up to our aspirations for holistic care. For example, our system frequently sends patients from hospital care to homelessness. Payment systems do not reward prevention and early intervention for health improvement. There are drastic disparities between who receives quality treatment and preventive care; economically fragile families often do not have access to affordable health care.
To improve, we must strip the system down to its roots to correct design flaws that do not promote overall person health. We need to fundamentally transform the way people interact with the health care system and in their communities. After all, health is wealth. Without a healthy society, the economy suffers. We saw it during the pandemic.
At the inaugural Whole Person Health Summit taking place April 19 at the University of St. Thomas, an inspiring group of practitioners, providers, thought leaders, advocates and organizers dedicated to the Advancing Health Equity Through Whole Person Care come together to share best practices for implementing the move to the current system.
Whole person care is effective when implemented. Integrated behavioral health models such as certified community behavioral health clinics, in which people receive coordinated care for behavioral and substance use issues so they don’t get lost in the system, are promising models. . Through these models, we have seen that good health outcomes are enabled by the interprofessional team working alongside funding sources to enable the integration of social, spiritual and cultural activities with physical and mental health.
To effect long-term change, we must move from awareness to action. We need to look beyond the providers of today to the providers of tomorrow. At Morrison Family College of Health, our near-term goal is to be unwavering in our inclusiveness and ambitious in our creativity so that we focus intensely on improving the health of individuals, families, and communities based on lessons learned. that we pass on to our students.
For example, our pre-licensure nursing programs (both BSN and MSN) require clinical placements at public health and community organizations such as St. Paul’s Public Library, the Salvation Army and the Downtown Minneapolis Improvement District. Future learning opportunities will include more community partners and health entities.
Through these placements and what they experience during their coursework, our nursing students learn that wellness and good health include more than the physical treatment of illness or disease. Rethinking health care means centering the whole person within their social system and reinventing a system designed around families and community-engaged solutions.
We, as a society, cannot just touch the limits of reform while our basic assumptions continue to perpetuate health disparities. We need to do more. We must call for social ingenuity and innovation through interprofessional collaboration and community partnerships. We must care for the whole person – mind, body, spirit and community – in our schools and in all of our systems.
Dr. MayKao Hang is vice president and founding dean of Morrison Family College of Health at the University of St. Thomas and former CEO of the Wilder Foundation.