Every year since 1933, the United States has set aside March 30 as National Doctor’s Day, a day to celebrate physicians. This year it falls on a Thursday.
I’m all for celebrating doctors, but what happens if you can’t see one because there are no physicians to see?
Many communities around the country are experiencing a shortage of primary-care physicians, and the problem is growing. “A 2016 study conducted by IHS Inc. predicts that by the year 2025 the United States will face a shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians.”1
This problem is less obvious in cities, where there often are many choices, but for those in rural areas, it can be a real challenge to get an appointment when or where needed.
One way to address the problem that isn’t discussed much is to decrease the demand. If that seems impossible, consider what the most rigorous analysis of disease risk factors ever published found.2,3
The No. 1 cause of death and disability in the United States is our diet.
You’ve heard the message before — don’t smoke, exercise, eat right. If you’re anything like me, you mostly just hear, “Blah, blah, blah.” That message is very general and can leave you feeling helpless. (Unless you’re a smoker.)
But if major noncommunicable diseases are really related to diet, then that’s within our control, just like it’s within the control of smokers to improve their health. When we know that we can decrease the amount of diabetes medicine we take, or reverse the course of our heart disease and maybe even improve these diseases without more medicine, that changes things.
When I learned that improvements were within my control, I took action and saw results.
There is a lot more scientific evidence to support this than just that one analysis. For example, a study of 89,000 people found that the rates of diabetes dropped the more the subjects ate plant-based.4 In fact, those eating a strictly plant-based diet reduced their likelihood of developing diabetes by 78 percent.
So how can making dietary changes solve the doctor shortage? Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), provides insight.5 One report notes, “With appropriate primary care for diabetes complications, nearly $2.5 billion in hospital costs might have been averted.”
This is just the amount of money that could be saved if we care for complications more quickly. What if patients averted most of the complications altogether through diet? That would reduce the number of visits a patient needed to make to a primary care doctor. With fewer visits, the need for more doctors falls.
I’ll drink (my green smoothie) to that!
- The Association of American Medical Colleges newsletter, AAMC News. September 27, 2016
- Benziger CP, Roth GA, Moran AE. The Global Burden of Disease study and the preventable burden of NCD. Global Heart. 2016 Dec 8; 11(4):393-397. doi: 10.1016/j.gheart.2016.10.024. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
- “Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2.” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease, April 2013.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. https://archive.ahrq.gov/data/hcup/highlight1/high1.htm