We all seem to know what health is, and we all seem to know how our health changes over time. It may thus sound counter-intuitive to even ask the question—what is health?
Many definitions of health have been proposed since the time of antiquity. None has been universally accepted, but all have one thing in common—all describe health as a subjective experience. A pragmatic definition of health defines health as the personal state of feeling whole.
Our bodily experiences
Our emotional experiences
Our social experiences
Our ability to make sense of our life experiences
The colloquial term “disease” refers to the presence of pathological changes that can be identified by health professionals. However, much of the experience of dis-ease is not associated with identifiable pathology, and even if pathology is identifiable, most people still experience “good health”.
Being able to accept and adapt to the inevitable onset of some form of disease across one’s life is another defining characteristic of health.
Most of us are healthy—or at least healthy enough—most of the time to not perceive a need to seek care from a health professional.
It is now clear that, over a lifetime, dis-ease is a major contributor to the development of many common diseases and substantially effects our longevity.
- Unsurprisingly, the question “How do you rate your health on a scale of excellent - very good - good - fair - or poor” is the single most predictive indicator of
the use of healthcare services and
The ways how the subjective experience of health and dis-ease impacts on the development of disease have been untangled, but so far, these understandings have not been implemented in everyday clinical care.
“Health systems” need to be distinguished from “healthcare systems”. At present those responsible for the health system predominantly focus on the object of disease, hence a more accurate characterisation of the prevailing system would be “disease management” system.
Understanding the patient’s dis-ease, regardless of its underlying cause, is essential to identify the most effective means to allow him to regain his state of ease. This is especially important when there is no disease associated with the experience of dis-ease; the medical literature somewhat disparagingly refer to these constellations as somatisation.
Given the epidemiology of health and disease, the health system needs to allocate a larger proportion of resources towards “health supporting services” and “community development”.
Successful health system redesign would firmly focus on the interdependent environmental, personal and biological factors that contribute to health as a whole person experience.
- 12.Uexküll Tv, Pauli HG (1986) The mind-body problem in medicine. Adv J Inst Adv Health 3(4):158–174Google Scholar
- 17.Pellegrino E, Thomasma D (1981) A philosophical basis of medical practice. Towards a philosophy and ethic of the healing professions. Oxford University Press, New York/OxfordGoogle Scholar
- 20.WHO - Western Pacific Region (2007) People at the centre of health care. Harmonizing mind and body, people and systems. WHO Western Pacific Region, GenevaGoogle Scholar
- 21.Illich I (1976) Limits to medicine. Medical nemesis: the expropriation of health. Marion Boyars Book, LondonGoogle Scholar
- 22.Husserl E (2006) The basic problems of phenomenology: from the lectures. Winter Semester, 1910–1911. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
- 23.Antonovsky A (1979) Health, stress and coping. Jossey-Bass, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
- 24.Ingstad B, Fugelli P (2006) “Our health was better in the time of Queen Elizabeth”: the importance of land to the health perception of the Botswana San. In: Hitchcock RK, Ikeya K, Lee RB, Biesele M (eds) Updating the San: image and reality of an African people in the 21st century (Senri Ethnological Studies No 70). Senri; National Museum of Ethnology, OsakaGoogle Scholar
- 27.WHO (1978) Declaration of Alma-Ata. International conference on primary health care, Alma-Ata, USSR, 6–12 Sept 1978. World Health Organisation, GenevaGoogle Scholar
- 28.Parsons T (1951) The social system. Free Press, GlencoeGoogle Scholar
- 29.Dubos R (1960) The mirage of health. Allen and Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
- 30.Maslow HA (1968) Toward a psychology of being. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- 33.Reid J (1984) Body, land and spirit. Queensland University Press, St LuciaGoogle Scholar
- 34.Seedhouse D (1986) Health: the foundations for achievement. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- 35.WHO (1986) Ottawa charter for health promotion. First international conference on health promotion. Ottawa, 21 Nov 1986: WHO/HPR/HEP/95.1. Available at: http://www.who.int/hpr/NPH/docs/ottawa_charter_hp.pdf
- 36.Sturmberg JP (2007) The foundations of primary care. Daring to be different. Radcliffe Medical Press/Oxford San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
- 37.WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2007) Globalization, global governance and the social determinants of health: a review of the linkages and agenda for action. www.who.int/social_determinants/resources/gkn_lee_al.pdf
- 42.Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) Australia’s welfare 2014. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra. Contract No.: Cat. no. AUS 178. Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/australias-health/2014/
- 53.Sturmberg JP, Bennett JM, Picard M, Seely AJE (2015) The trajectory of life. Decreasing physiological network complexity through changing fractal patterns. Front Physiol 6:169Google Scholar