Dr. Adam Duckett is medical director at East Hill Family Medical in Auburn.

What would you think of a health care system that focuses on helping people become and stay healthy, rather than one that focuses more narrowly on "managing" diseases? A system where the primary care physician works with the patient and patient’s family as partners, understanding the deeper causes of illness and symptoms, providing approaches for self-care and taking enough time to address all of the patient’s concerns?

This is an approach where health care blends conventional medicine with evidence-based, natural and less invasive therapies. It highlights a patient-doctor relationship that offers personalized, participatory care and emphasizes healing of the whole person. Additionally, a majority of patients view their PCP as the most trusted source of health information and are more likely to adopt a healthy behavior when their PCP recommends it. East Hill Family Medical firmly believes in treating the whole patient, and supports them in achieving their health goals.

Healthy mind, healthy body

Over the next couple of months, we will explore ways to better self-manage health care needs to achieve whole health, which is defined as having a healthy mind and body. But first, I’d like to start this series with a real-life example of what it looks like to address whole-person health. Recently, Dr. Adam Duckett, medical director at East Hill Family Medical, shared a story about a patient (Randy) who came in for back pain. After an evaluation, instead of prescribing Randy medication for the pain as many patients expect, Dr. Duckett’s approach was quite different. He both talked with and listened to Randy not just about his back pain, but his personal, family and social setting so he could fully understand the context and cause of Randy’s pain.

During the discussion, Dr. Duckett learned that Randy had recently lost his job and felt as though his marriage was falling apart. He wasn’t sleeping or eating well, and physical activity was the last thing on his mind. “Chronic back pain often exhibits signs of depression, as severe pain can wear you down by keeping you from sleeping and eating well, adding to your daily stress, preventing you from being physically active and discouraging you from participating in daily hobbies or social activities that you enjoy. And all of this takes a toll on your emotional well-being and can actually worsen the medical condition," Dr. Duckett said.

“Oftentimes, depressed patients who seek treatment for chronic back pain usually think of their condition in terms of, 'If I can just get rid of this pain, I’ll feel fine again.' To some extent they may be right; however, when you understand how thoroughly pain and depression are interrelated, it makes sense to treat both conditions as part of the patient’s overall plan of care. As such, it is imperative to treat not just the physical symptom, but the potential underlying cause and, in this case, that was Randy’s depression,” Dr. Duckett said. Moving forward, Dr. Duckett plans on mitigating Randy’s pain through a combination of methods aimed at treating the whole patient, rather than just his back pain. This is the mind-body connection.

Healthy eating, physical activity, and restful sleep

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There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the benefits of a healthy diet, including preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, and delaying or lessening the effects of dementia and mental health disorders, including depression. What you eat matters for every aspect of your health, especially your mental health. Most people seem to know what foods are healthy: fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, lean meat, whole grains. Baked and broiled foods are healthier than fried, and limiting the consumption of caffeine and soft drinks is important.

Lifelong physical activity is key to optimum health and keeps the whole person, mind and body, strong and balanced. And the good news is there are many ways to increase your activity level without having to suit up and head to the gym. For example, walking is a great low-impact exercise with many health benefits. Take a walk on your lunch break, take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther away in the parking lot. Physical activity has been shown to aid in weight control, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, and improve mental health and mood.

Restful sleep is another important health issue, as it is unhealthy to go without needed sleep. Sleep deprivation significantly affects health and, long-term, untreated sleep deprivation is associated with many illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and mental health problems.

We all have factors in our lives that limit us from being in optimal health, whether it's money, work, family stress, or many others. Don’t be afraid to talk to your PCP about these factors. It is important for your PCP to understand the deeper cause of illness and symptoms to tailor treatment that will address root causes, rather than provide symptom relief.

Our series continues next month, when we’ll explore the health power of human connections.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Duckett, call East Hill Family Medical’s Adult Medicine Office at (315) 253-8477.

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Danielle Collier is the director of marketing and communications at East Hill Family Medical, a federally qualified health center offering dental, reproductive health, internal medicine and pediatric services. Located at 144 Genesee St., Auburn, the center can be contacted at easthillmedical.com or (315) 253-8477.