11/07/2013 02:31 pm ET

The Transformation of Health Care Is Well Underway

The change we need in this nation's health care system will be driven by individuals like Dr. Tracy Gaudet.

Dr. Gaudet directs the Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). And for her, transformation is more than just a word. It's her job description.

After building the program at Duke Integrative Medicine and serving as its executive director, Dr. Gaudet was hired by the VHA to undertake one of the most massive changes in the philosophy and process for health care delivery ever attempted by an organized health care system. Her charge is to transform the VHA approach from physician-centered care to personalized, patient-centered care based on relationships, built on trust, and committed to positive results over the veteran's lifetime.

Integrative health care, with its focus on patient engagement, holds a key to accomplishing this vision for the VHA and the rest of our nation's health care. The approach addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person's health and then uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to help people get and stay well.

Starting with VHA centers of innovation and hundreds of pilot programs across the country, Dr. Gaudet and her team are advancing integrative approaches to medical care such as meditation, yoga, and nutrition to more fully address veterans' health and well-being. VHA providers are starting with the veteran as a person, rather than beginning with their disease. This means providers work closely with patients to understand each veteran's vision for his or her own life and identify his or her own health goals. Then they partner with the patient to create a Personalized Health Plan and identify and provide the support needed to achieve those goals.

Beyond new treatment options and assessment tools, Dr. Gaudet is also leading the charge to change how the VHA defines and measures success. Instead of measuring transactions -- such as the episodic application of diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and procedures -- they will measure success by the health and wellbeing of their patients.

This is why Dr. Gaudet is one of two award recipients who will be recognized at the Bravewell Leadership Awards in New York on Nov. 7. The other recipient, Dr. Myles Spar, is working on a smaller but equally important scale, using an integrative approach to care to make a tremendous difference in the lives of the underserved at the free clinic he directs in Venice, Calif. Established in 2003, The Bravewell Leadership Award honors leadership in transforming the U.S. health care system through the use of the integrative approach. Each award carries a $100,000 grant to further the honoree's work.

Change is always what motivates philanthropy, and Bravewell is no exception. We have been united from the start around a single goal: to bring about optimal health and healing for individuals and society.

Over the last three decades, we have been heartened to see that change begin to take hold. In a survey of U.S. integrative medicine centers that we released last year, we found that 75 percent reported success using integrative practices to treat chronic pain and more than half reported positive results for gastrointestinal conditions, depression and anxiety, cancer and chronic stress.

Much of this progress is to the credit of champions like doctors Gaudet and Spar, who are willing to undertake the risks and sacrifices necessary to catalyze change. They are perfect examples of the promise of integrative health care.

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