Reinstall compassion in health care

The famous doctor and academic Sir William Osler described the science and art of medicine as not being in its own right, but as twin berries on a stem. The US healthcare system is a mixture of scientifically proven therapies with the added art of patient care.

In other words, the way we care for the patient is just as important as what we do for the patient. Integrative health care combines the art and science of medicine and is viewed by medical professionals today as the future of medicine. The approach is broadly defined as health care that combines complementary and alternative medical treatments with conventional medicine. Inclusive health care aims to take care of the physical body, emotional body, mental body and spiritual body of all patients.

During the pandemic it became clear how individual health affects collective health. As behavior changed over the past two years, the interconnectedness of our health became more evident. With isolation, the risk of infection decreased, but depression and anxiety also increased. The concept of death became a reality when loved ones, friends and colleagues became infected with COVID.

The collective effects of this pandemic are not yet fully understood. This includes physical, mental and emotional health. Integrative health – that is, caring for the entire patient – is the solution. Because our health and general well-being depend on people and systems made up of people, inclusive health enables the community made up of our diverse cadres to take care of themselves.

Another example of inclusive health care that has been in place in the United States since the 1970s is hospice care. Each day, teams of professionals including doctors, nurses, CNAs, social workers and pastoral workers, as well as complementary and alternative therapists, meet to discuss the entirety of the needs of each patient and their family. Unfortunately, patients often have to wait until the end of their life to receive integrated care.

In addition, the hospice uses techniques such as massage therapy to improve end-of-life wellbeing. Unfortunately, patients often wonder why they had to wait until the end of their life to receive this type of care. Our premise is that these types of quality of life interventions must become part of the care of all patients.

The Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV has a Director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine, as well as an Integrative Medicine course, with the main aim of teaching full body care to our future doctors. Compassion, the act of realizing the plight of others, requires this type of mindset.

The philosophy of integrated health care has been part of the school since its inception. Founding Dean Barbara Atkinson recognized the importance of integrative health care and made this one of her planning goals. Today this idea is being realized with the school and the creation of an Academic Health Center. This is where the integrative approach comes together as all UNLV health science students – nursing, dentistry, public health, inclusive health and medical students – have the opportunity to work together.

As we build this interdisciplinary Academic Health Center, we are establishing a model to integrate the health care of every patient and our entire community. This means creating an interdisciplinary care that links individual health, community health, and population health.

The integrative health model enables every practitioner to contribute their specific knowledge, expertise and wisdom – a table that we set for every single person we meet. By working together as a patient-centered team, we create a health system that reflects, supports, and empowers the patients and communities we serve.

Living in Las Vegas and starting an Academic Health Center is a unique opportunity. The Ritz Carlton has a motto: “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” The motto of the academic health center could be “We are whole people serving whole people”.

As one of the world’s largest hospitality cities, the core concepts of hospitality and consumer-centric care must be incorporated into everything we do, and we are a place where people from anywhere can come to experience health and healing.

Every step must be taken towards available, affordable and patient-oriented health care. We can’t wait to take care of ourselves and each other. We can do justice to the complexity of being human by exploring the totality of body, mind and spirit.

This was the way until the 17th century when the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who was one of the first to metaphorically separate the head from the rest of the body through his treatise on the duality of mind and body, changed the course of how we use our body, Mind and our soul think. It is time to put our heads back on our bodies, appreciate the connection of body, mind and spirit, and offer inclusive care to individuals and our communities.

Anne Weisman is Director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV. Marc J. Khan is the school’s dean and vice president of health affairs.

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