Doctor lectures on cultural health care philosophy

Dr. Gregory Plotnikoff said the way health care is currently run is killing the country and draining the economy.

Image By: Dana Kampa

Dr. Gregory Plotnikoff used his cross-cultural experience to explore medical philosophy and how doctors should interact with patients in a lecture at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Tuesday.

Plotnikoff works at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis. He has six years of experience working in Japan.

“We can all look at the same thing, but depending on the vantage point, what we see can be very different,” Plotnikoff said.

While medicine is presented as objective, he said differing philosophies lead to different practice. He compared worldwide medical practices, saying western medicine is more objective and cognitive while eastern medicine is more subjective and sensory.

He said western culture uses a language of warfare while eastern medicine focuses on relief, comparing “painkillers” to “pain relievers.”

The characters of Japanese language also reveal differences in approaching care, specifically doctor-patient relationships.

For example, two strokes represent “person.” Plotnikoff said he thought the symbol was elegant and profound, resembling a person’s body. However, he eventually learned the two strokes really meant that any one person always has support.

When he sought a character for the individual, the most similar Japanese words resembled ‘poison’ and ‘death.’

Plotnikoff said this difference in language shows how the relational, human element of western medicine is being lost. He also said the national sentiment is that patients feel dismissed by the current medical system.

“Health care is killing our country,” Plotnikoff said.

The trap western medicine falls into is the metaphor that the body is a machine that will break down without maintenance.

“We’re organisms,” he said. “We’re living beings. We’re not machines. The meanings, beliefs and interpretations we bring to experience have profound effects on us on multiple levels.”

These differences have a real effect in practicing medicine. When he began practicing medicine in Japan, he asked for medicine from support staff to suppress a patient’s fever. The staff then questioned the decision because fever is a natural response.

He said these differences in how doctors treat patients and understand what they are seeking, either maintenance or comfort, changes the whole health care field.

“It is through meaning that we can express care,” he said.

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