One of the women who acted as a TA in my health economics class for graduate students is teaching her on course on health systems for undergraduates this year. She had asked me to give a guest lecture in her class, and yesterday was the day for that lecture. She has asked me to address the "demand for health and health care". This morning's note is about an interesting point in the demand for health-linking the health economics theory with a philosophy about health itself.
On my way between the Johns Hopkins medical campus and the Johns Hopkins main campus yesterday, I tuned into the Diane Rehm show and heard an interview with Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil was taking about his book, Why Our Health Matters. His explanation was interesting and something that I could easily relate to the topic on which I was asked to lecture.
In the course of the interview, Dr. Weil pointed out that most of the institutes within the United States National Institute of Health are named after types of disease (e.g., the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease) or body parts (e.g. the National Eye Institute and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). Dr. Weil suggested a National Institute of Health and Healing. He noted that the human body has an incredible ability to fix itself. He suggested that one reason to make good health decisions (in terms of eating, behavior, etc.) early in life is that it makes our bodies better able to repair problems later in life. He suggested that more studies of how that works and how each of us can augment our body's ability to do this would be a subject worthy of further research.
How does this relate to economics? Michael Grossman (one of the top health economists in the field) wrote a paper more than 30 years ago about how our demand for health comes not just from a desire to enjoy being healthy but also from an investment in our ability to do our tasks more and from an investment in our ability to keep ourselves healthy later in life. Dr. Weil reflected the last point in a clinical/philosophical way rather than an economic way. The economist talks about "depreciation of" and "investment in" our health. Dr. Weil talked about illness and injury and how we can do things to prepare our body to heal itself or speed up the medically-based process. These two approaches to the issue are essentially the same.
The students seemed to appreciate my ability to relate the economic theory to something medical and to something I'd just heard. The woman teaching the course (who attended my guest lecture) noted that she had remembered my stories and pulling in of things from current policy discussion as part of the health economics class I taught last year and how useful it seemed whenever I brought in stories. I am flattered that she considers this so useful for teaching. I also find it useful for conference presentations. When I was in England last week, I began my own presentation by relating it to things that I'd seen earlier during the conference. As a basic philosophy of teaching, I told my former teaching assistant that it is good to be like a sponge--take in as much information as possible and be able to "wring it out" as necessary to go along with lectures to make them more interesting and more easily understood by the students in the class.
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