More Alike that Different–Redux

Another Medicine X-Inspired Reflection

For those of you reading who didn’t attend or follow Medicine X, and are ready for me to get back to my normal blog topics, I apologize. The experience of attending MedX was overwhelming and exciting and occasionally challenging–and I process those kinds of things by writing. But take heart, this post is both a reflection on things I learned at the conference and a reach back to something I have written about before–at the heart of things, we are more alike than we are different.

One of the things that I most appreciated about the three days of Medicine X was the deliberate effort to bring different identities and roles into contact with one another: patient with physician, designer with consumer, technology experts with technology users, academicians with practitioners. And one theme that I heard throughout the conference was a growing awareness that the experiences we share are deeper and broader than the experiences that distinguish us. Many patients, who had been accustomed to focusing on the communities of others who shared their diagnosis, noted that patients with other diagnoses seemed to be telling stories that felt closely parallel to their own. Physicians who had been firmly grounded in medical practice talked about learning about the power of good questions and close listening–key tools of mental health practitioners for decades. I could see patient’s eyes widen during one-on-one conversations and my panel when I brought up the point that, eventually, doctors are patients too.

And this reminded me of the summary I use to describe my practice: “help at the intersection of physical and mental heath.” Training models and insurance reimbursement have tried very hard to draw clear lines of separation between physical health and mental health. (If you’re not sure about this, just talk to anyone who has run into separate plan management, deductibles, and co-pays for “behavioral health.”) That separation has always felt artificial to me–and anyone who hangs out with me long enough will eventually hear me make a passionate argument for the fact that health is a big umbrella. And it doesn’t help anyone when we allow artificial separations to treat us like we are different.

We share common human experiences of joy, loss, excitement, struggle, achievement and pain–no matter what our job title or diagnostic category is. I love Dr. Daniel Siegel’s concept of interpersonal neurobiology, which he defines as this:

Interpersonal neurobiology is a field that draws on all branches of science – and now it even draws on other ways of knowing, like the arts, literature, and music, as well as the contemplative practices of meditation and even some insights from wisdom traditions and the contributions of religious practices, which are all about the process of being human. We try to learn, from all these different ways that people have been exploring, what it means to be human and to answer some fundamental questions. — Dr. Daniel Seigel

When I read things like this definition, I have a great deal of hope that we will do better and better at understanding that we are fundamentally more alike than different. I think this understanding is what will allow us to push forward and create better systems for health and health care. I think that respecting the wisdom and unique knowledge that we each bring to the table, while acknowledging our shared human experience, is what creates change. I saw some of this at Medicine X, and I hope to see more in the future.

What do you think? Is there something to this “more alike than different” track? Or am I missing a key concept?

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