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Alison Rose Levy

Alison Rose Levy

Posted March 1, 2009 | 09:54 AM (EST)

The Doctors' Prescription: Oz, Weil, Ornish, and Hyman Talk Turkey to Senatorial Leaders


Not every health problem is an emergency. Unless you wait around and do nothing until it becomes one.

And that's what we've done ---as individuals and as a nation, now in the throes of a health care system in crisis with ballooning waistlines and ballooning costs. Supplying coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans is a clear mandate. But as Senator Tom Harkin told the assembly of health leaders and policy makers convened at the Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, it's time to make prevention and public health "the centerpiece of health care reform."

Assuring access to effective low cost/proactive health care has sequeed from private choice to public necessity. For a full webcast of this ground-breaking summit to be available soon, go to: http://www.iom.edu/?id=59924

This week as President Obama set aside $634 billion for health care, with a strong, new emphasis on preventive care, a quartet of famous doctors offered Senators Michael Enzi, Harkin, and Barbara Mikulski their prescription for the health of the nation as health care expenses consume 16.5% of the gross national product.

"American must find new ways to address the poor health record and staggering expenditures gripping our country," urged Dr Mehmet Oz, MD, the cardiac surgeon, author of the popular You: health book series, and frequent Oprah guest.

He pointed out that we spend twice as much on health care as European countries, but are twice as sick due to high rates of chronic disease.

"Integrative Medicine can offer low-cost alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs and surgery for many conditions that now drain our health care resources," offered Dr. Andrew Weil, MD. A noted physician author, Weil directs a pioneering training for medical students at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Their approach emphasizes "proven, low-risk, low cost interventions, progressing to high-cost interventions only when the severity of conditions demand them."

Dr. Dean Ornish who has studied how lifestyle changes impact health outcomes gave figures, "Last year $2.1 trillion was spent on medical care, with 95% of it spent treating disease after it occurred. Many of these diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer, and obesity account for 75% of these health care costs, although studies show they are preventable and reversible through lifestyle changes."

Oz agreed that "lifestyle choices drive 70% of the aging," advising Congress to shift policies to combine the best of modern medical practices with integrative approaches to "harvest the natural healing powers of our bodies."

Bestselling physician author, Dr Mark Hyman, MD, urged that "We must change not only the way we do medicine, but also the medicine we do."

He set forth a new paradigm of personalized, patient-centered health practice, based on a systems biological model called Functional Medicine, which tracks how the triad of environment, lifestyle, and genes interact to produce health imbalances which cause "the signs and symptoms we call disease."

Designed for acute illness, trauma, and end-stage disease, acute care medicine is "the best in the world," Hyman acknowledged. "But it's the wrong model for chronic illness, because it doesn't address why people are sick (or seek out) the underlying mechanisms and causes."

"That's why we're witness to a first ever decline in life expectancy," he concluded.

Oz is convinced by the success of his popular books (co-written with Michael Roizen, MD) that Americans are crying out to "play a greater role in their own wellbeing." In addition to addressing the widespread chronic disease in the U.S., Oz wants people to learn health from childhood on. His HealthCorps trains teens in public service by teaching healthy lifestyle to their peers.

Oz argued that we need to incorporate integrative approaches into the conventional health care economy, via insurance company reimbursements. He envisioned simple credentialing for all practitioners and research money for these therapies.

New drugs and high tech surgical procedures aren't the only kind of medical breakthroughs, said Ornish, "One study projected nearly $81 billion in annual savings due to preventive programs."

For the complete hearing, go to: http://help.senate.gov/Hearings/2009_02_26/2009_02_26.html

The Senatorial leaders who serve on key committees were receptive and impressed. Now comes the tough job of translating critically needed health proposals into public policy.

Quoting Abraham Lincoln in a 1862 address. Senator Harkin told the Health Summit audience, "The dogmas of the quite quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.. we must disenthrall ourselves so we can save our country."

The doctors all agreed on the prescription. The supporting science is clear. But will a nation addicted to unhealthy lifestyles and a fix-it medical model, overcome the denial about the health system breakdown in time to do the right thing?

For more on integrative health care, sign up at: www.health-journalist.com