I recently attended a physical therapy meeting in Austin, Texas known as the Graham Sessions. Named after my friend and fellow physical therapist Patrick Graham, the Graham Sessions is a meeting of 100 physical therapists from around the country who come together to dissect and try to solve some of the problems facing physical therapy and health care today.

Like the cost of health care. We spend over $3.2 trillion on health care in this country every year. We are among the highest in the world for per capita spending on health care. In other words, we spend more per person on health care than just about everywhere in the world.

Yet, among developed nations, we are nowhere near the top in key health care outcomes. Infant mortality? We are ranked 27th in the world among developed nations. In one study, we were ranked 169 out of 224 countries examined.

Just three years ago, life expectancy in the United States was 78.8 years, compared to an average of 82 years for similar countries. About 44 million Americans don’t have health insurance and another 38 million have inadequate coverage.

Maybe 25,000 people a year die from health problems that we know how to treat. Somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 people declare bankruptcy each year because of health care costs.

Our ranking in health care delivery is low because too many people can’t get the care they need. And when they do finally get that care, it is often too late. High co-pays. High deductibles. No coverage at all.

Opioids are killing us. I have had three former football players that have died from drug overdose. That’s three too many. And since opioids are so tightly controlled now, use of heroin and crack cocaine (which are much cheaper on the street) is skyrocketing.

The biggest reason that we spend over $3.2 trillion each year on health care is that we are unhealthy. We are obese. We have a high rate of heart disease. We smoke too much.

We want a pill for everything. We don’t want to put in the time and effort to control our weight. My profession, physical therapy, has a lot to offer the chronic pain patient but co-pays and deductibles stand in the way. It’s cheaper to buy drugs. And we ask you to put in the effort.

Exercise is a great healer. Movement done the right way can help with both the pain and the addiction. But exercise requires effort, dedication, and persistence. Too many people don’t want that.

Because of those high co-pays and deductibles, we run to the emergency room for medical care that could have been prevented by regular check-ups. Emergency Room visits are expensive. And when they are clogged with people who don’t have medical emergencies, they become inefficient and even sometimes ineffective.

What do we need to do? We need to take ownership of our health. Eat healthier. More fruits and vegetables. Exercise daily. Control our blood pressure. Stop smoking. Limit alcohol intake.

I have a couple of childhood friends that are terribly unhealthy. Both are obese. Both have lived sedentary lifestyles. Both have had open heart surgery. Both have now had bariatric surgery. What would have happened had they lived active lifestyles? If they had not made fried food a staple of their diet? If they had kept their weight under control?

Instead of looking at end-of-life issues and long term care facilities, they would likely be enjoying their grandchildren and golden years. Brutal? Yes. Honest? No doubt.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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