I came across an interesting and, in my view, important blog today called KevinMD.com. (Founded by Kevin Pho, MD, KevinMD.com is the web’s leading destination for physician insight on breaking medical news.)
The blog is written by medical doctors and covers topics about health care in general from a doctor’s point of view. Sadly, as I read some of the posts, I realize that doctors are as frustrated with our health care system as we are. Many of them want to help their patients but health care billing and payment cause them to make some hard choices in order to survive. In the post, Why I decided to opt out of Medicare as a provider by Dr. Natasha Deonarain, it is clear why continuing to see Medicare patients is not financially feasible for many physicians. I also believe that relying on insurance companies and Medicare separates people from their own health care decisions. Health care can be costly, but there are other options for routine checkups and basic medical needs.
In another blog post, by Dr. Doug Olson, Primary care doctors may no longer be needed, he explains how nurse practitioners (with nurse practitioners complete 2,300 – 5,350 hours of education and clinical training during five to seven years, compared to physicians’ standardized path of 21,700 hours over 11-12 years) and physician assistants can see 80-85% of the patients medical doctors see. Dr Olson believes that “we need to develop systems that get that select the 15-20% of patients that need a physician.” In his view this is a better use of primary care physicians training and expertise is to treat the more complex medical cases while the nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants treat the remaining 80% of less complex cases. as patients relatively healthy folks can self select our health care providers by only going to primary care docs if they need complex services, and using Walgreens, Target and other urgent care centers for simple colds, flues and minor injuries and illnesses. And recently in Chicago, there is a service that offers doctors making house calls, Chicago Express Doctors.
Massage Therapy and The New World Of Health Care
So where does massage therapy fit into all this? First off, I acknowledge that at least in the State of Illinois, massage therapy is not really a recognized health care option. According to the scope of practice for Illinois Massage Therapists, we are to provide massage therapy for the purposes of general health and well-being, but not to treat nor diagnose illnesses. Yet one of the most reported benefits of massage therapy is stress reduction (which can be thought of as pertaining to “general health”). The health effects of stress on the body include numerous illnesses and can even lead to injuries. KevinsMD has an article on How the stress of caregiving can lead to stroke. The Mayo Clinic reports that many health problems can be effected by stress including stomach pains, headaches, chest pains, sleep problem and anxiety. According to WebMD, “Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.”
So what does massage therapy do for clients with stress-related ailments? According to one research study at Duke University, massage therapy was shown to reduce self reported stress in patients with brain tumors. Another pilot study showed that stress levels of inpatient psychiatric patients were reduced after massage therapy. And, according to the MayoClinic, massage therapy can not only reduce stress, but lead to other health benefits as well.
I do not think massage therapy is s substitute for medical care. And I do not think massage therapists should try to act as doctors nor prescribe nor diagnose illnesses. But I do believe that massage therapy sessions can be a source of relaxation, a time for our nervous systems to ramp down to parasympathetic mode versus ramping up to sympathetic (flight or flight) mode. Allowing ourselves to be cared for, relaxed and to spend time in an environment of reduced noise, stress and constant demands allows our bodies to better do what they do naturally: our hearts beat, our immune systems fight off infection and our lungs and muscles allow us to work, move and life. Allowing our bodies to stay healthy means less needs to visit the doctor so our medical providers can focus on us when we very sick, not for routine illnesses and injuries. For this reason, I think that massage therapists can offer stress relief BEFORE we get an illness, a stress-related injury or just plain get cranky from stress!