Health, Wellness and Medical Science – 2007 Top Ten Trends

The Aspen Health Forum just gathered an impressive group of around 250 people to discuss the most pressing issues in Health and Medical Science.

1- Global health problems require the attention of the scientific community. Richard Klausner encouraged the scientific community to focus on Global Problems: maternal mortality rates, HIV/ AIDS, clean water, cancer…

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ireland, a Catholic country. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ideology kills..we need more empathy with reality, and to work with local women in those countries.” This session included a fascinating exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audience to defend the role of US aid, explaining how 60% of retroviral drugs in African countries have been funded by the American taxpayer. Which made Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Agre, also in the audience, stand up and encourage the US to really step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a number of European countries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sputnik”?: Many of the speakers had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists. Two Nobel Prize Laureates talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insist we must do a better job at explaining the scientific process to society at large. Both are proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and having evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields.

4- We need a true Health Care Culture: Mark Ganz summarized it best by explaining how his health provider group improved care when they redefined themselves from “we are 7,000 employees” to “we are a 3 million strong community”, moving from being a cost controller with a paternalistic attitude to a health facilitator, looking underneath symptoms to identify and deal with underlying patterns.

5- You can’t manage what you can’t measure. We heard many times how defining and measuring outcomes, so common in the private sector, is critical to ensuring a good allocation of resources in the health and scientific fields, that use so much taxpayer money. For example. NIH funding grew from $9B in 1994 to $29B in 2007, yet the results are not clear. The same happened with health care as a whole, a sector that now consumes 16% of the US GDP with health outcomes (infant mortality, patient deaths in hospitals) worse than other countries that invest far less.

6- The rising role of public-private partnerships: There are multiple initiatives launched to bridge the increasing gap between academia and industry. The Foundation for the NIH has facilitated key conversation between the FDA and pharma companies. The Gates and Clinton Foundations have launched innovative partnership models to tackle global health problems.

7- From Lifespan to Health-span. Population distribution in developed countries is shifting from a “population pyramid” to a “population rectangle”. The point of much ongoing research is not “how to spend more time on the nursing home” but how to slow down the process of aging, so we can live healthier longer.

8- Patient-advocacy groups are having an impact. We heard many examples on how small groups of motivated individuals have built large patient advocate movements that influence public policy. Michael Milken talked about the Cancer March, that helped increase NIH funding from $1.5B to 5$B. Hala Moddelmog, from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, explained how they have 1 million people engaged in promoting cancer research and prevention. Robert Klein, key advocate of the California Proposition 71 (that will provide $6B for stem cell research through long-term bonds) explained how the proposition was passed, including engaging over 80 patient-advocacy groups.

9- There’s a new emphasis on understanding “how systems work” instead of “how isolated genes make things happen on their own”: Genomics is starting to help predict susceptibility to disease and to therapies. Now, we must keep in mind the role of our experience and environment in turning some genes on or off.

10- The importance of our Lifestyle-Each of us owns our own health. 70% of heathcare costs derive from lifestyle-related diseases (such as smoking-induced cancer). We heard several calls to action for insurance companies to incentivize behavior modification to promote good lifestyle habits that improve quality of life and can delay disease symptoms, resulting in billions of dollars of cost s

Synergistic Medical Science – The Future of Health Care

Welcome to the final article in this seven part series on Ayurvedic Medicine and the natural botanicals used in this ancient medical science that is becoming increasingly popular in the West. The prior articles have individually focused on the medicinal treatments, such as Turmeric, Ginger, Guggul and Amalaki, and their capacity to treat and prevent diseases. As promised in a past article, I will now devote this final one to a major precept of Ayurveda that may seem foreign to those in the United States who are educated in or treated by Western (Allopathic) Medicine. This precept of Ayurveda is medical synergy.

Before I get into this concept as it applies to medicine, think about this question. You go to your doctor due to an illness of some sort and are hopeful for a treatment, perhaps a cure, which usually comes in the form of a medication. How many of us go to the doctor when we are healthy as a method of preventing illness? Yes, there are guidelines for screening for Cervical, Breast, Colon and Prostate Cancers at varying ages. Yes, there are recommendations for yearly physicals as well. However, these visits are to check for symptoms or signs, to ensure there is nothing wrong. They are generally not focused on how to do things right from a healthy perspective.

Secondly, as we all know from the numerous advertisements, medications have side effects some of which are life-threatening, though most people get lesser ones instead of major ones. This brings me to my second question. When you report such side effects to your doctor, and you should always do this, what is the next step in treatment? The options are few and in my field of Pediatric mental health, like many others in western medicine, a popular option is to give another medication to treat the side effects of the first. This can be effective of course, yet as a physician I am concerned about how the combination of medications may interact. Another common option is to prescribe a second medication to combat the disease itself. However, there is often a scarcity of clinical research studies that support multiple simultaneous medications for treating an illness.

Now, imagine a scientific medical approach that was based upon not only prevention and maintaining a health body and mind, but additionally on combining treatments so that together each of them enhances their individual benefits. This is the concept of synergy and one that has been embraced, researched and employed in Ayurveda for hundreds of years. It is actually standard practice in Ayurveda to treat patients with synergistic natural treatments, such as combining Turmeric with Ginger in order to potentiate their effects. Synergy is a standard in Ayurvedic Medicine and is just one reason western culture is incorporating the tenets of Ayurveda into daily living.

Western medicine has made truly remarkable advances in medical technology and treatment that have allowed people to live longer, healthier lives. Our country is undergoing a medical revolution at this time that will change the way doctors practice and patients are treated. From this revolution will evolve a medical system that combines the wisdom of Eastern Medicine with the advancements in the West, thereby creating a balanced medical approach focusing on prevention. In the future, the terms Eastern, or Ayurvedic Medicine, and Western, or Allopathic Medicine will cease to exist. The new global medical system may be termed Integrative or Holistic Medicine, terms that are familiar today, or perhaps a new name will be given, such as Synergistic Medicine. Whatever we call it, it will undoubtedly contain some of the major concepts covered in this series on Ayurveda, such as adaptogenic medicines that modulate the body’s response to stress. As we in western medicine are now discovering, there is much to gain by studying a medical science that has prospered for millennia and continues to evolve.

To further your knowledge in eastern medicine, or Ayurveda in particular, search this term on the internet and you will find a wealth of resources and practitioners, many of them closer to you than you think. I welcome you to follow the link below as an additional resource.