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Archive for November, 2007

Medicine for the Body (Politic)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Andrew Weil, MD, and Larry Dossey, MD. and four more of this country’s leading integrative doctors dialogued candidly among themselves over lunch. Read More→

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Pioneers of Integrative Health

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

For the wealthy, there are luxuries that millions can buy like vast properties and a life insurance deal. But when raging fires strike enclaves in Southern California, no matter how valuable your property or portfolio, you learn that money can’t buy you a stable environment. Nor can it buy you quality health care, some leading integrative doctors say– at least not in America.

“There’s a myth that we have the best medical care in the world. T’ain’t so,” Andrew Weil, MD told a group of physicians, thought leaders, and philanthropists, assembled at a symposium hosted by the Bravewell Collaborative, a foundation that promotes integrative medicine. “I’ve seen hospitals abroad that make the best American hospitals look second-rate. People are traveling to India or Thailand for hip replacements, or bypass surgery because there’s better care. You don’t get kicked out on the street prematurely,” said the bestselling author who founded and directs the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

The Bravewell Collaborative, a group of high-net-worth individuals marshaled by Christy Mack, the dynamic blonde wife of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, is dedicated to bringing the best of integrative care to the forefront through a series of wide-ranging programs, including integrative health centers, integrative medical training, and other initiatives. Last week, Bravewell honored six leading doctors–they dubbed the Pioneers of Integrative Medicine at a black tie event in New York City.

This elegant crowd included event MC Mehmet C. Oz, MD, the leading surgeon, bestselling author, and Oprah regular (who with his striking wife Lisa was clearly in his element), designer Donna Karan (stunning in black with an armful of bangles) and many household name doctors from both coasts. As we dined on healthy herb-crusted halibut, I had to wonder: If these donors and prominent physicians are worried about America’s health care system, shouldn’t we all be? (For more on this issue: HealthJournalist.com)

With a procedure here, or a loved one’s health challenge there, the elite are clueing in to what everyone faces on a hospital visit: the risk of fatal staph infection, an overwhelmed staff, and the danger of slipping through the cracks, when most vulnerable and helpless. The difference is that once awakened to the medical reality, the rich have more resources for taking action–and some of them are. Because whatever your stock yields, you still enter the same hospital system, which many doctors at last week’s events decried as life-threatening–even for those with ample insurance coverage.

“Preventive medicine has to entail more than improving wellness. It’s about forestalling the need to enter the medical gauntlet where your risk of a lethal encounter has never been higher,” bestselling author and editor, Larry Dossey, MD, one of the award-winners, told the gathered guests.

“There are signs all over a major hospital I won’t name: ‘Don’t drink the water,’” said honoree Andrew Weil. When he relayed that “patients there are drinking and bathing in bottled water to avoid listeria contamination,” people gasped.

As hospital errors range from 225,000 to 600,000 per annum, (depending on how you calculate the numbers) hospitals themselves, now follow heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death. Weil, Dossey, and the other four pioneering integrative physician-recipients see a health-care system teetering on the brink of collapse.

“The death rates by medical error were published by the AMA. Why isn’t this a national scandal?” asked Dossey. “It’s never addressed and that reveals the endemic hypnosis in medical circles in this country.”

“There’s a real danger that on a collective level we are lying to ourselves about so much–denial is a polite way to say it,” offered Pioneer, James Gordon, MD, a psychiatrist, who serves as the Founder and Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal, and a Bravewell Pioneer who has lived for over five decades with chronic illness, told of her own recent encounter with the hospital system.

“Considering a minor surgery, I consulted a top surgeon who refused to operate unless one of my doctor students or friends agreed to stay with me in the hospital 24/7,” Remen confided to her fellow Pioneers.

Asked why these precautions would be necessary in a top-ranked hospital, the surgeon warned Remen, “Because you’re not safe here.”

“In 1965, when I was first in that hospital, no one would have ever dreamed of saying this,” Remen said in a hushed voice. “We’ve gone from model hospitals into a kind of dark ages.”

“It’s a symptom of societal crisis when you have physicians talking this way,” pointed out Pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the Founding Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts.

“When people recognize that this may be the first generation to live less long than their parents, it doesn’t matter if you’re red or blue, liberal or conservative–this is a human issue. And it needs a human solution,” said Dean Ornish

At a private lunch earlier, Ornish and his fellow honorees dialogued among themselves, circling around a diagnosis, like physicians on grand rounds, as I listened spellbound. But who was the patient–the health care system, the medical profession, the country?

“It’s not our diseases that are going to kill us, it’s our beliefs,” Rachel Naomi Remen told her colleagues.

Copyright, 2007, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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