For These Doctors and Patients, Health Means "Personal Best"

By Grandinetti, Deborah | Medical Economics, September 21, 1998 | Go to article overview

For These Doctors and Patients, Health Means "Personal Best"


Grandinetti, Deborah, Medical Economics


A growing breed of wellness-oriented physicians feel that relieving symptoms is no longer enough.

Vermont dentist Wes Riverton is happy with the care he receives from his regular physicians. But for more than a year, he's made routine-sometimes weekly-"wellness" visits to FP Ahnna Lake in Stowe, VT, paying $110 out of pocket for each hourlong session.

Lake describes herself as a "medical advocate." Although she'll prescribe medications or tweak existing prescriptions, she spends much of her time helping patients unravel the problems that keep them from feeling their best. She'll address any aspect of life that may be a drag on her patients' health.

For Riverton (not his real name), 53, the complaints include allergies, stinging eyes, chronic bronchitis, sinus problems, and bouts of depression he attributes to his exhaustion and Type II diabetes. But he wants more than symptom relief. What he's after-and willing to pay cash for-is a state of health best described as "thriving."

Riverton is not alone in his pursuit. A December 1995 survey by market research firm Find/SVP, titled "Changing Patterns in Fundamental Patient Attitudes," estimated the US market for self-help products and services at $1.4 billion. The growth in consumer spending in this area, the authors found, "is sharply outpacing that of traditional pharmaceuticals."

Patient interest in wellness isn't new, of course. What is new is that a small but growing number of mainstream physicians are making optimal wellness the central goal of their practices. They're creating innovative programs designed to help patients make healthier choices. They're talking with patients about issues, such as career satisfaction, that seldom get addressed in the exam room. And they're striving to teach wellness by example.

"We're still doing the traditional things we've always done," says GP G. William Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute and director of health services for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. "But there's also a call to mentor patients, to help them pursue wellness on their own initiative."

Many physicians have responded to that call. Like Fairfield, OH, general surgeon Vijay Jain, who used visualization and meditation to heal himself of adult-onset polymyositis, and now shares his self-care strategies with patients. Could such physicians be raising the bar of patient expectations? Time will tell. Meanwhile, here are three in the forefront of the wellness trend.

FP AHNNA LAKE:

Working as a "wellness strategist" FP Ahnna Lake always knew she wanted to practice a brand of medicine that emphasized wellness and preventive care. After completing her family medicine residency at McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, she was more convinced than ever.

"I was burned out," she recalls. "I knew I was in a health-crushing system and that there was a healthier way to be a doctor." The picture her older colleagues painted was bleak: In order to make a decent income, she'd have to see too many patients in too little time.

Lake was also dismayed to find that most medical care came too late, after a person's disease was well-established. "I'm more interested in the vague complaints-the tiredness, the rising blood pressure, the nagging aches and painsthat show an early deviation from health," she says.

And so she decided to set up a very different kind of primary-care practice. Lake's approach is so new, there's not even a name for it. She calls it "medical advocacy," but the better term might be "wellness strategist." Half of her practice is devoted to counseling physicians on issues related to their professional wellbeing. She also sees patients with unresolved medical complaints, who already have a family doctor and may be under the care of one or more specialists.

"I try to provide patients with a relaxed environment that enables the two of us to carefully go over the current plan of medical care and build on it. …

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