Flipping a Switch vs. Turning a Knob

A Healthcare Perspective

By Dr. Chad McIntyre

Healthcare is entertaining a different kind of public discourse than had become the standard over the past few decades. Prior to the COVID era, conversation about healthcare focused on how to pay for it. Three years since the world flipped upside down, the role of insurance companies seems relatively on the backburner. Attention has now turned to meticulously analyzing the western world’s answer to a question that should have been under more intense scrutiny all along: what is health and how does one achieve it?

It is a topic that everyone should start researching because it may be the most pivotal sociological choice we collectively make in the first half of this century. Modern healthcare’s flaws are coming increasingly into American consciousness. Arguably, healthcare’s necessary first shift is its philosophy. How it defines the above paragraph’s closing question should be better understood in this social climate, so let us wax philosophical for a moment.  

In our family, we describe the primary ways that emotions fluctuate in people as being switches and knobs. Switches can quickly change gears, emotionally. Knobs take longer to shift, on the upswing or the down. The analogy offers an apt parallel to the healthcare crisis.

The competing healthcare philosophies at the heart of the matter fundamentally disagree on the basic premise of health. To one, it is like turning a knob. The focus of its philosophy is to identify how to turn the knob up as much as possible by studying the human body to find its vulnerabilities, then offering to the body targeted feedback to eliminate the variables that hinder the knob being turned all the way up. Health, in this case, is a life goal. Like wealth or happiness, there can never be enough of it, and it takes habitual effort over a long period of time to attain its peak. Therefore, in this philosophy, you are only as healthy as you desire to be and are willing to be. Take the personal responsibility to turn the knob up and you can expect vibrant health, but neglect the responsibility and the knob turns down, leaving you open to the myriad problems that characterize poor health.  

That is not the side that dominates in our culture, though. On the other side of the spectrum is the philosophy that borders on monopolizing healthcare in America, which suggests that health is more like flipping a switch. It goes by many names: the hole-in-one, the magic bullet, the instantly gratifying result.  All describe a central theme of modern American healthcare so fundamental to its core values that to take it away would be to strip it of its identity. What would mainstream, traditional healthcare be without its “do this and everything will be fine” mindset? To that philosophy, health is as easily attainable as flipping a switch.  

Holistic vs. allopathic is the industry speak, and I have found over the years that nobody cares about those distinctions; they just want to be better. In a perfect world, we would all work together already to make sure people got well and you would not have to know about or prepare to be a greater part of this philosophical debate. The balance between the two philosophies necessary to change healthcare only comes from greater awareness of its necessity.  

Dr. BJ Palmer, the developer of Chiropractic, appropriately pointed out that one philosophy is the study of disease and what causes people to die while the other studies health and what causes people to optimally live. It is really just switches and knobs, sometimes you need one, often you need the other. What you know healthcare to be could utilize its disaster intervention tools (pharmaceuticals and surgery) as the last resort, positioning the doctors and practitioners more holistically inclined to assume the role of educating the public on how to be healthy, offering accountability and guidance while people took control of their own health. Alas, society moves at the same pace that health does: incrementally in very knob like fashion. 

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