When I first started writing this column, it was all about sports injuries. It actually started out as a question and answer thing, answering questions about athletic injuries. Dr. Bob Haralson and I took turns answering the questions in this space. It was called “The Jock Doc.” We did it that way for about a year.

It became a column not long after and I’ve been writing it every week since then. For 34-plus years. In all these years, I have covered a wide variety of topics, often having little to do with sports. But it’s always been about helping this community be a better place because ... well ... I’m all about making this community a better place.

When I arrived in Maryville in 1977 (Dec. 12 to be exact), there were three physical therapists in all of Blount County. Blount Memorial now has about 90 physical therapists and physical therapist assistants and a whole host of other rehab clinicians that are occupational therapists, athletic trainers and speech therapists. There are other rehab clinics and clinicians around our community providing good care.

Obviously, health care has changed. The medical community here has grown to meet the needs of our county, also reaching into surrounding communities. Our population is now over 130,000. Here’s the problem: Every single day, I encounter someone without health insurance or someone that is terribly under-insured.

All too often, I will get a boy or girl having had surgery to repair a torn ACL, a devastating injury to a young athlete. And maybe they have no health insurance or are under-insured. The rehab following ACL reconstruction is extensive. But even if they have insurance, maybe their insurance has a hard max of 10 visits for physical therapy (that means that insurance will only pay for the first 10 visits). They need more than that to get back to their sport.

Health care costs, including the costs of providing physical therapy, are expensive. Insurance and other forms of third-party payment are important in helping us get the care we need while protecting our financial viability. Unfortunately, over 500,000 people go bankrupt because of medical bills every year. That constitutes a national crisis.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. One of my best friends in the world just got back from M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston. He has a rare and aggressive form of cancer. So he traveled to the best cancer treatment center in the world. The cost doesn’t matter. His life is in the balance.

In the United States, we have the best medical professionals, the best technology, the best hospitals, the best medical care in the world. Twenty years ago, my friend would not have had a chance. Now, he does. And he will pay whatever it takes to beat this thing.

I’m not going to get political on you and offer my opinion about what we should do as a country. I don’t think there is a single best solution. But I can tell you my opinion about what you and I can do.

We can get healthier. We can take better care of ourselves. We can eat better. We can control our weight. We can exercise daily.

We can get an annual physical, not because we’re sick but because we’re making sure that we stay healthy by controlling our blood pressure, managing our diabetes, and by discovering medical problems early, before they turn into catastrophic events and diseases.

We can stay away alternative forms of “health” care that claim to treat everything from glaucoma to asthma to bedwetting. We have research that tells us what the best course of action to treat injury and disease is. Insist on evidence that what any provider is suggesting will really work.

We can prioritize our health and take ownership of our personal well-being at a level that will drastically decrease what we spend on health care. And be healthier and happier because of it.

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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