“Health care” is generally understood by most people to mean the diagnosis and treatment of diseases by doctors, hospitals, and other health care professionals. Also included in the understanding of “health care” is the financing arrangements that pay for this medical care. This usually involves health insurance companies, often referred to as “payers” of health care services. This so–called “health care” should more appropriately be called “sickness care” in the sense that people seek out medical care when they are feeling sick. Doctors take medical histories, perform physical examinations, refer patients for a variety of medical tests to help in ascertaining the diagnosis of the illness or disease for which the patient is seeking understanding and/or relief from pain and discomfort. Doctors are trained to provide sickness care but are not especially skilled in providing real health care.

Health care itself is what people do for themselves to maintain and improve their health. This involves living a healthy life style to the extent that individuals are able to make choices that promote health and the diminish illness and disease. Important aspects of health care include good nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining normal body weight, getting enough sleep, obtaining appropriate immunizations, avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol use, not using medications and drugs – legal or illegal – that are not prescribed by physicians for specific medical treatment, and managing stress effectively. Doctors can contribute to health care by recommending that patients follow the advice given for living healthy, but the actual health care is carried out by patients themselves. In fact people who engage in healthy behaviors are much less likely to become patients and receive sickness care from doctors.

Effective health care, therefore, contributes to maximizing health and minimizing illness. Most cases of illness and disease among people in the United States are for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease – heart disease and stroke, – many cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and many others. While these diseases are partially caused by genetic inheritance, life style health care is for most people far more important. Following the healthy life style habits of ‘health care” will increase the probability of avoiding or postponing chronic illness, and therefore increase the probability of being healthy. In addition, people who practice effective health care seem to have a better quality of life and are more likely to have good mental health as well. A future post will consider the question of probability in the development of illness and disease.

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