He who enjoys good health is rich, though he knows it not.
– Italian proverb
For too long, our health system has focused on treating people after they get sick. Yet, more than two-thirds of Sedgwick County residents are overweight or obese and over a third have been diagnosed with hypertension.
By shifting more resources to preventing disease and promoting good health, not only in the doctor’s office but also in our neighborhoods, we can help everyone live as healthy as they can.
That is the mission of Health ICT, an affiliate of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County that began operating in May 2015. This initiative is committed to making our community healthier by focusing on the prevention of obesity, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Primary care providers know that “upstream” factors – literacy, housing, income, availability of nutritious food, and a myriad of other personal, family and community conditions – affect the health of their patients to a great extent. These factors play a significant role in the development of chronic conditions as well as in the challenge of managing them.
Yet, primary care physicians have little ability to influence these root causes of health and wellness. We simply can’t “treat” ourselves out of these complicated health issues. An economist recently said, “Of the trillion dollars that’s spent on largely preventable diseases, 88% is spent on treating the symptoms. We’re spending 4% on prevention.”
Health ICT team members envision a community wholly committed to wellness through access to healthy food, lifestyle education and environments that promote physical activity.
Health ICT has already begun coordinating with local providers to empower patients to take an active role in their care. Health ICT also is working with physician practices to improve the management of patient care by utilizing evidence-based healthy lifestyle programs, creating sustainable work flow, refining the referral process and incorporating clinical decisions into electronic medical records.
Public health/clinical care initiatives, like Health ICT, bring a mission to the table that powerfully complements primary care activities. Committed to ensuring equitable conditions so that people across our community can be healthy, these initiatives bring the knowledge and skills to respond when medical needs are grounded in conditions far outside the reach of a physician’s tool set.
When patient health concerns are based on lifestyle choices or the environments where they live, work and play, public health activities can help address the cause of their diseases and help spur the community to make the healthy choice the default choice.
As individuals, we need to invest in our health today instead of our sickness tomorrow. Being healthier doesn’t have to mean overhauling your entire lifestyle. Sometimes all it takes are a few changes, like taking time during the day to be active, quitting tobacco use and purchasing and preparing healthier foods. Make better choices when you can and continue to seek new opportunities to live a healthier life.
Partnerships between public health professionals, health care providers and local decision makers, combined with our personal health choices, will be what continues to make our community one that attracts and retains young talent, promotes economic vitality and makes Wichita stronger and bolder.
Becky Tuttle is program manager for Health ICT, an affiliate of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.