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Integrative Medicine: What if Your Doctor Prescribed Actions Instead of Medications?

Integrative Medicine: What if Your Doctor Prescribed Actions Instead of Medications?

I spend a lot of my time thinking about ways that you can overcome illness and injury, boost your health and happiness, and live a more vibrant and fulfilling life. One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that behavior change and habit formation is one of the most powerful tools we have … and yet it is being largely ignored by medicine and healthcare.

Let’s talk about that problem and some simple ways to solve it.

Build Habits, Not Factories

I think it’s strange that we know that behavior changes like eating healthy, exercising more, reducing stress, and boosting creativity can improve your health (both in the short–term and long–term) and yet most doctors spend their time treating symptoms rather than teaching these behaviors.

I’ve written previously about how forming healthy habits not only prevents illness, but can also act as a method for treating it. For example, using exercise as a treatment for depression. What if your doctor took this idea to heart and prescribed actions instead of medications?

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Imagine how much time and energy doctors, pharmacists, and healthcare providers spend researching drugs, prescribing medications, and making sure that new drugs don’t conflict with the ones you’re currently taking. Compare that to how much time your doctor spends teaching you how to optimize your environment at home and at work to build healthy habits. (Has any doctor ever done this?)

What if, instead of dishing out pills to treat symptoms, healthcare professionals spent their time teaching patients how to act healthy? I’ve written about ways to do this. For example, changing the color of your plate to make it easier to eat more vegetables or using the phrase “I don’t” to make sure that you resist temptation and actually stick to your health goals for the long–term.

These ideas are just two examples out of hundreds of simple tactics that can be used to make behavior change easier. These ideas come from the fields of behavioral psychology, consumer research, and elsewhere (and I’m doing my best to track down as many as possible).

Teaching Actions Instead of Prescribing Pills

There is a shocking amount of unnecessary treatment going on in healthcare.

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As reported in this New York Times article, orthopedic surgeons took an anonymous survey and admitted that 24% of the tests they ordered were medically unnecessary. That article also shared that the rate of doctor’s visits that lead to more than 5 medications being prescribed has more than tripled in the last 5 years.

Some experts believe that doctors feel pressured to do “something” for patients and so they end up ordering drugs and procedures that won’t hurt them, but that don’t really help either. When I hear about stories like this, I feel like plucking my eyeballs out with a fork. Is this really the best we can do? Instead of wasting time and money on unnecessary procedures, why not spend that time teaching people how to implement lifestyle changes?

Regardless of the motivation behind these actions, the evidence is pretty clear. Our medical system is spending a lot of time and money treating symptoms and masking illnesses, and very little time teaching people how to change their behaviors and build better habits.

Integrative Medicine: It Works, So Use It

All of this is not to say that surgery or prescription drugs or medical treatment doesn’t work. Not only do those methods work, they save many lives. But it’s also true that in many cases, these treatments don’t work any better than behavior change. (Not to mention that behavior change is less expensive and more empowering over the long–term.)

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And this is why I’m calling for more integrative medicine — a combination of the best of scientifically–backed ideas from all fields. For many illnesses, research has already shown that behavior change leads to equivalent or better outcomes than medication.  As with most things in life, the right answer is probably a balance of both sides. For example, imagine prescribing a medication for the first 12 weeks (to provide short–term results) while also teaching the patient how to change their behavior, optimize their environment, and build healthier habits over that time-span (to provide long–term results).

It sounds logical, but right now I’m afraid that our system is spending far too much time and money on medications and treatments, while essentially ignoring the power of behavior change. Combining the two can lead to better outcomes and lower costs — everyone wins.

We have science and research that proves the efficacy of behavior change and we have a growing body of psychological tools that make these changes easier to achieve. And yet, the vast majority of doctors continue to spend their time telling people to take prescriptions instead of teaching people how to take action.

I think it’s time to set a higher standard in health and medicine by integrating scientifically–proven behavior changes rather than defaulting to a prescription because “we’re busy and it’s easier” or ordering another test to appease the patient.

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Behavior change works, so why aren’t doctors teaching it to their patients?

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Thomas van de Vosse via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on March 24, 2021

8 Smart Home Gadgets You Need in Your House

8 Smart Home Gadgets You Need in Your House

We’ve all done it. We’ve gone out and bought useless gadgets that we don’t really need, just because they seemed really cool at the time. Then, we are stuck with a bunch of junk, and end up tossing it or trying to sell it on Ebay.

On the other hand, there are some pretty awesome tech inventions that are actually useful. For instance, many of the latest home gadgets do some of your work for you, from adjusting the home thermostat to locking your front door. And, if used as designed, these tools should really help to make your life a lot easier—and that’s not just a claim from some infomercial trying to sell you yet another useless gadget.

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Take a look at some of the most popular “smart gadgets” on the market:

1. Smart Door Locks

A smart lock lets you lock and unlock your doors by using your smartphone, a special key fob, or biometrics. These locks are keyless, and much more difficult for intruders to break into, making your home a lot safer. You can even use a special app to let people into your home if you are not there to greet them.

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2. Smart Kitchen Tools

Wouldn’t you just love to have a pot of coffee waiting for you when you get home from work? What about a “smart pan” that tells you exactly when you need to flip that omelet? From meat thermometers to kitchen scales, you’ll find a variety of “smart” gadgets designed to make culinary geeks salivate.

3. Mini Home Speaker Play:1

If you love big sound, but hate how much space big speakers take up, and if you want a stereo system that is no bigger than your fist, check out the Play:1 mini speaker. All you have to do is plug it in, connect, and then you can stream without worrying about any interruptions or interface. You can even add onto it, and have different music playing in different rooms.

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4. Wi-Fi Security Cameras

These are the latest in home security, and they connect to the Wi-Fi in your home. You can use your mobile devices to monitor what is going on in your home at all times, no matter where you are. Options include motion sensors, two-way audio, and different recording options.

5. Nest Thermostat

This is a thermostat that lives with you. It can sense seasonal changes, temperature changes, etc., and it will adjust itself automatically. You will never have to fiddle with a thermostat dial or keypad again, because this one basically does all of the work for you. It can also help you to save as much as 12% on heating bills, and 15% on cooling bills.

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6. Smart Lighting

Control your home lighting from your remote device. This is great if you are out and want to make sure that there are some lights on. It is designed to be energy efficient, so it will pay for itself over time because you won’t have to spend so much on your monthly energy bills.

7. Google Chromecast Ultra

Whether you love movies, television shows, music, etc., you can stream it all using Google Chromecast Ultra. Stream all of the entertainment you love in up to 4K UHD and HDR, for just $69 monthly.

8. Canary

This home security system will automatically contact emergency services when they are needed. This system offers both video and audio surveillance, so there will be evidence if there are any break-ins on your property. You can also use it to check up on what’s happening at home when you are not there, including to make sure the kids are doing their homework.

Featured photo credit: Karolina via kaboompics.com

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