04/08/2013 11:15 am ET | Updated Jun 08, 2013

Revolutionizing Healthcare in America: An Interview About Changing the System

America's healthcare system is broken. As a nation, we spend up to $300 billion a year on pharmaceutical drugs. About 65 percent of Americas are overweight, and almost 75 percent of America's health care costs are spent on preventable diseases. A recent documentary entitled Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare is working on bringing attention to these issues.

I spoke with the director and producer Matthew Heineman about some of the issues addressed in the film.

Why should everyone in the world see this film?

You got to answer that one. That's not for me to say.

Yes, I think it's the fact that we spend twice as much as any other country in the world -- but we ranked 50th in terms of life span -- and that we're at or near the bottom of almost every metric of health. I mean, it's a national tragedy. It's unsustainable -- the direction of American healthcare. Things have to change, and the goal of our film and the goal of Escape Fire is really to change the conversation on healthcare and look at how the system is broken and why the system doesn't want to change, and what we can do to fix it.

Can you talk about the ways Escape fire portrays some of the current problems in our military healthcare system?

One aspect of the personnel in the military is that, I think the traditional debate on healthcare over the last couple of years has really been about cost and access. I think what Escape Fire is saying is that it is incredibly important, but I think the key question to ask is "Access to what? Access to a broken disease care system that's expensive and that you don't get a great outcome from, or access to a humane, safe true healthcare system? That's really what our film exposed.

I think in Escape Fire, we really look at the military as a microcosm for the rest of America. We've really been in a war for over a decade, and we really have an epidemic of soldiers coming home with chronic pain and PTSD, so the default treatment for that is narcotics, and what's resulted from that is really a generation of veterans who are -- again, at epidemic levels of prescription drug addiction and suicide, and I think what we show in Escape Fire is not that this is a problem, which it is, but I really commend the military because they're acknowledging the problem. They're trying to fix it, and they're really looking at solutions. They're testing acupuncture, meditation, yoga and group therapy in lieu of drugs for soldiers who are battling pain and PTSD.

These are major voices in the military. You've got a Green Beret and a former researcher from Walter Reed, and they're bringing up that there's an epidemic going on in the military that needs a change. Can you talk about how Escape Fire shows possibilities for changing this?

Sure, I mean, we're fortunate enough to get access to some amazing voices, and to very -- I'm trying to think of the word -- brave voices, who are willing to speak out on this issue. We spoke to General David Fridovich who is now retired, a former three-star general, a commander of Special Forces, Green Beret, who himself battled drug dependency, and who really sought out and very bravely had spoken about the problem that he was facing. We followed a story of a young sergeant, Sergeant Yates, injured in Afghanistan. We followed him from Germany on a medevac plane where he almost died from a narcotic that he was on. They followed him for several months as he goes through a very innovative program at Walter Reed, again, where they're testing acupuncture, meditation and other modalities to help wean him off of all these drugs.

I think one of the major themes in Escape Fire, really, if you break it down, is that huge institutions, the military, the Safeway Corporation and others, are being forced to change. I think, in making the film and screening the film, and at film festivals, starting with Sundance and CNN, in hospitals, churches, community centers all across the country, is that I'm really optimistic. I'm not necessarily optimistic about what's coming from Washington, or anticipating any huge sweeping changes that are going to come. There's just so much gridlock, but what I am optimistic about is that change can happen on the local level, by communities and community, hospital by hospital, and institutions in which we're seeing that change happening. We see that in the film as I said with the military. I think as this happens more and more, it will become more of the norm that it is accepted.

Can you talk about the portrayal of integrated medicine in the film? You have really big names from the integrative medicine approach, Dr. Weil, Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Jonas from the military's perspective. Can you talk about how Escape Fire shows some of the possible ways integrated medicine can work in the healthcare system?

Yes, I think I'm trying to say this: I think the status quo in American medicine is huge. The system, as Dr. Weil says is making a lot of money off the way things are. A lot of people acknowledge in our film that they need to look at things differently, that the way we're doing things isn't working. I think there's great value in what "integrated medicine" brings in really looking at the buyer and the whole and not dissecting oneself into different silent or parts, but looking at the whole person, with emphasis on prevention and preventative medicine. I think a lot of these ideas have seen great total promise in providing solutions for the current disease management model that we have in America.

In Escape Fire, I really explore the disease care system and our healthcare system, and it's just a topic on sickness and on health, so hopefully we can choose that.

I think really, the goal of the film is to start the conversation across the country and to get you to look at healthcare in a different way. I think with all the partisan bickering around the passages of the healthcare law behind it, hopefully now we can really start thinking about how do we create a sustainable system for the 21st century, and I hope my film can help in that process.

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