When the Coronavirus outbreak is a good thing: a cry for preventative health

As a Doctors Without Borders volunteer in Beijing during the 2003 SARS outbreak, my heart goes out to those hit hardest by coronavirus overseas. By no means do I want to make light of the situation, but in thinking about this latest superbug invasion, I wonder: could there be a silver lining to all this panic and attention?

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so yes, something good has come out of the coronavirus outbreak.

I’ve been an ER doctor for over 30 years now. Most patients arrive in my care in critically poor health. Many unrealistically expect a pill or procedure so they can be on their way. Others cry desperately as they suffer despite countless surgeries and medications. Rarely do they ask how they could’ve prevented their condition.

And now I think about the coronavirus, where there is no vaccine and no cure. The only way individuals can protect themselves is by 1) limiting their exposure to the virus, and 2) hoping their immune system is strong enough to fend off the virus’ attacks.

Amidst this tragedy, people are finally being forced to take control of their own health – to be proactive about preventing disease instead of reacting to it.

This is the philosophy of integrative medicine, which I now have been practicing since 2012. In the ER I yearned to see patients before they reached their critical state, and I now have the privilege of helping these sufferers put themselves on a healthier path.

So yes, I say the coronavirus outbreak could actually be a good thing, because this is an instance where preventive medicine is paramount. There is no magic pill. My hope is that from this fear of infection, people will start to take their health seriously and see an integrative medical doctor to find out what lifestyle choices are optimal for their unique bodies, before they get sick, so that they don’t get sick.

And to those who think it’s too expensive: how much will it cost to go to the emergency room because their immune system is weak and they’ve fallen ill? How much will surgery cost for a neglected condition that has become unbearable? How much will multiple doctors cost to resolve their unique set of ailments? All likely more than the cost of a wellness assessment and plan.

And to those who think integrative medicine an illegitimate form of healthcare because it is not covered by insurance, consider the following two scenarios. With insurance coverage, doctors are often incentivized to order certain procedures because the insurance company compensates well without contention. Without insurance coverage, doctors know patients may be cost-sensitive and so will attempt to provide care at the least expense, which in the case of integrative medicine practitioners, means holistically assessing what makes a patient healthy and keeps them healthy. It’s obvious the latter scenario is a more trustworthy approach.

Finally, it is in everyone’s best interest if we achieve our own optimal health, and then help others also optimize theirs. Not only are we less likely to get sick if no one else is, but consider the broader long-term effects. People who are healthy are generally happier people, more active, more productive, more likely to earn more money because of their productivity, live longer, cost less to support, are more likely to spend more because they have more money, and all together contribute to a stronger economy. It’s a beautiful upward cycle.

In my mind, the media can report on coronavirus all they want. If all this attention will spur individuals to take control of their health in a preventative way, then this outbreak is exactly what we need. With the speed at which these modern viruses mutate, this type of super virus certainly won’t be our last.

For more about the coronavirus and integrative medicine, visit

Anita Wang, MD

Laguna Beach, CA