How would you feel if you got the following prescription from your doctor?
A while ago, I saw an online story about a doctor that prescribes time in nature to his patients. Of course, I applauded this move without hesitation. There are so many physical and mental health reasons to increase time spent in nature. Among countless other things, it increases physical activity, improves attention and lowers stress.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, is promoting a prescription for “Vitamin N.”
Two articles about this:
This movement is picking up momentum.
Now, along somewhat similar lines, something new has come officially from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP has a new policy asking its pediatricians to promote early literacy in families. You can read about it here.
Of course I believe you should read to your children, every day, all day, and twice before breakfast.
But, this policy made me pause.
Unless I suspected a serious impairment, I wouldn’t take my child to the doctor for help with reading any more than I would ask my child’s teacher for a prescription for antibiotics. That said, children don’t go to school for the first 3-4 years of life. Doctors are the first, and sometimes only, professionals dealing with parents of small children on a regular basis. They could, in fact, be the only people telling some parents to read to their children. But where do we draw the line when it comes to responsibilities?
General practitioners must know a little about everything, and “everything” is constantly changing. Between the births of my two children, it appeared that every rule, from swaddling, to nursing, to food introduction, had changed. These rules have, since two years ago, changed again. (You can now introduce allergens like shellfish and peanut butter as early as 6 months, believe it or not!)
The WHO (World Health Organization) definition of “health” is now: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So, doctors are now responsible for the complete well-being of their patients. This shift in the focus of health care requires a shift in the way it is delivered. It appears to me, that general practitioners are being asked to do too much. If we are shifting towards a whole-person definition of health, we are going to need a whole team of people who are equipped to deal with a broad range of issues, including early-years parenting practices, the promotion of literacy and suggestions about active living and exposure to nature.
In Canada, there is a promising movement to increase the number and availability of nurse practitioners. From the Canadian Nurses Association website: “The nurse practitioner role incorporates the advanced knowledge and preparation needed to diagnose and treat illnesses with the values and skills of nursing. Nurse Practitioners focus on health promotion and treating the whole patient physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
If we are going to keep adding to the responsibilities of our health care providers, it seems only logical that these responsibilities are distributed in such a way that they can be reasonably managed. Otherwise, I think we are going to see severe declines in any doctor’s ability to manage serious cases. An increase in the availability of nurse practitioners may be part of the solution.
I am very interested in hearing other opinions on this topic.
Does anyone out there in the health care industry have anything to say?