LOS ALTOS, CA, April 11, 2013 – A curious thing happened the other night at the Commonwealth Club of California. Smack-dab in the middle of an all-star panel discussion on the need to improve the ethics and practice of medicine – a conversation that included the usual and expected litany of all things gone wrong with the American healthcare system – there came a glimmer of hope.
That’s right. Hope.
It began with something said by Dr. Robert Pearl, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, the largest medical group in the nation. Actually, it was something he said more often than any of the other participants: In order to see real and lasting reform in this country, we need to take personal responsibility for our health and to “value prevention” more than anything else.
“There’s no question that prevention is the best cure,” confirmed Dr. Victoria Sweet, an M.D. at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and author of God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Interestingly, though, rather than focusing on the virtues of a balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise and so on, she chose instead to highlight a particular quality of thought as the key ingredient.
“The most important thing is your temperament,” she said, noting that maintaining a positive attitude benefits the entire spectrum of disease, from prevention to recovery to cure.
Finally, there was Dr. Josh Adler, chief medical officer of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, who made an exceptionally shrewd observation: “We (i.e. doctors and other medical professionals) need to have humility because we don’t know everything.”
So where’s the hope in all this?
Think about it.
Responsibility, positive temperament, and humility – all qualities of thought, all readily available, all immensely affordable, and all proven to be effective in the treatment of disease.
Just to be clear, no one was suggesting that our failing health care system could be repaired simply by thinking happy thoughts. But there was an unmistakable demand for a shift in thought that could carry us further down this road then perhaps we ever imagined, making the whole idea of health care reform seem somehow doable.
Of course, this kind of reform doesn’t come in a pill or capsule and, as far we know, can’t be surgically implanted. It can, however, be nurtured in patients, nurses, and doctors alike. It can also be applied to an infinite variety of cases.
As someone who is a regular Bible reader, I can’t help but think that Jesus was onto something when he pointed out that our capacity to express such qualities as responsibility, good temperament, and humility – the proverbial “kingdom of heaven” – comes from within; that it’s divinely inspired, not humanly manufactured. He also said that this capacity is “at hand,” implying that we don’t have to wait for a new drug, a new medical procedure, or even a new set of laws to begin rethinking and reforming our approach to health care.
Despite the immense amount of work ahead, this fact alone should give us plenty of reason for hope.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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