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Eastern vs. Western Healthcare


I am not the first person to discuss this topic. Before you dismiss me as another new-age hippie please hear me out. I am a Chinese Canadian. That means I experienced life on both side of this debate. I feel I have an unique and qualified vantage point to talk about the issue objectively.

I came to Canada in the 80’s. I had my biggest culture shock when my Canadian teacher handed me a food wheel. On it I see the four different food groups and then a little window showing how many hours of biking, running, walking or swimming it takes to burn the calories of the various food item. “What the heck is this thing?” Why is this useful? Is it for polar explorers so they can plan on how much food to bring?

To me it does not make any sense to bike for 40 minutes just because I ate a bran muffin. If you do not want to bike you can simply not eat that muffin. What is the point of eating something and then immediately burn it off. Why treat yourself like a wood-burning stove?

In China we learned from a very early age that food is medicine. To a large extend, what you eat determines your level of health. We say “All sicknesses enter through the mouth”. A traditional Chinese person would not eat a high sugar, high fat, high preservative, big box store-bought bran muffin simply because it does not make him feel good. Eating is as much a mental activity as it is a physical one. Why would a Canadian person eat garbage indiscriminately? No disrespect, but that’s what our family dog does.

When you go to a traditional Chinese doctor he does four things without exception: watch, listen, take pulse, ask. He watches your complexion and behaviour; he listens to your voice and speech; he takes your pulse and observes your breathing; finally he asks about any changes in your life. Through these simple interactions he is able to determine the true cause of your illness ninety percent of the time.

Contrast that with a western doctor. He makes you wait an hour for a three minute interview, during which he walks in and immediately picks up the clipboard. He asks you to sit on a table and cough a couple of times. Before you can start to tell him about your sleeping patterns he is already halfway out of the door. All this time he never even makes eye-contact.

Health care is a sacred profession. It is not assembly line work where piece per minute and efficiency is the most important thing in the world. Modern science has gifted us with many tools to take care of each other. On the other hand, capitalism has robbed us of the essence of healthcare. That is to CARE for one another. True compassion, true attention, true desire to understand the person who seeks help.

It is small wonders that so many medical accident happens each year, so many patients become worse off, so many people become dependent on drugs. When the doctor is a chained up slave who writes prescriptions for strangers the patients will lose faith and sometimes their lives.

Western doctors should learn from the Eastern tradition. Slow down, take time, take care with your patients. Strive to understand your fellow human being’s lives. Only then can you help him to get rid of the root of his suffering. Do not depend on numbers and figures and reports so much. Depend on hearts. Yours and your patient’s.

As a patient we have to take responsibility and control of our health. We have to demand better services from our doctors. Do not let the doctor leave the room until he looks at you straight in the eye and tell you that you are going to be well and it is his job to help you get there. Otherwise fire him and write a blog about him on social media.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.


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