(Reflections on World Health Day)

We often link doctors with health. Doctors treat disease. But health is not just absence of disease. It is much more than that. Health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

In olden days doctors offered solace but little cure. But they listened to us attentively, with empathy, and were friendly – and all this contributed to our health. As the medical technology advanced, doctors became more and more able to provide cure, and less and less able to provide health. Today’s doctor has less and less time to listen to us. Today’s doctor uses algorithms, lab tests, diagnostic tools such as MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, to diagnose; and evidence-based medicine and protocols to treat. He has little or no understanding of the patient as a human. An over-busy surgeon, for example, has no time to visit the patient post-surgery; his juniors do.


Hesy-Ra, the earliest recorded physician in the world. “Chief of Dentists and Physicians” to Djoser, the King of Egypt in 27th BCE.

Today’s doctor treats the diagnosis, not the patient. Disease is decoupled from the individual. Is it progress, or reductionism or bureaucracy? It is all of those things.

Only a few doctors today believe that listening is the key to patient’s wellbeing. These doctors are the superior ones even if their skills are only as good as those of other doctors.


Asclepius – a physician and a demigod (Greek mythology).

Medicine is like sports. The more you practice the better you become. And so a sincere, knowledge thirsty, doctor keeps improving as he ages.  A research study in the US showed that an experienced doctor knows the patient’s problem within a minute or so of seeing him. A young doctor struggles long with his algorithms to come to a decision.

A doctor has to be not only knowledgeable and skilled but also quick witted. A surgeon, for example, must react to an emergency with a conditioned response just as does the pilot of a high-performance supersonic fighter jet aircraft.

All this leads me to advise my friends is to look for a doctor who is a listener, is empathic and is experienced.

And to aim not only to be disease-free but to be healthy. For mental health, have a belief system, a faith; be spiritual. For social health, have friends, respect individuals and accept them for who they are, set aside time for social work, for helping the needy.

Wish you best of health.


Dhanvantari – God of Ayurveda, Physician of the Gods (Hindu mythology)


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