Will Altruism Be The Next Healthcare Breakthrough?

Looking at a problem in new ways can be the source of real scientific breakthroughs.

There was Galileo’s new “view” of the heavens; Einstein’s new view of motion, time and space; and Mary Baker Eddy’s new view on the source of health.

Glimpses of breakthroughs in the medical systems of our time are appearing everywhere. And, they clearly result from the willingness of those committed to health outcomes – rather than health prescriptions – to reframe how we view patients, sickness and treatment.

Dr. Donald Berwick, M.D., illustrates this point using a remarkable innovation from the 18th century. Berwick is President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). He sees that the development of a revolutionary navigational tool in the shipping industry has lessons for improving healthcare today.

In 1714 the British government offered a large monetary prize to anyone who could develop a sufficiently accurate clock to insure precise longitudinal positioning.  This would solve the problem of ships going badly off course.

A British carpenter and clock maker, John Harrison, took on the challenge.  Between 1730 and 1749 Harrison built three clocks, each successively more complex, accurate, and large. The third one, known as H3, stood almost two feet tall and weighed nearly 100 pounds.

Then, Harrison “…began to realize, after all this time, that he had been following the wrong path with his earlier experimental marine clocks.” He

“…commissioned John Jefferys, a London watchmaker, to make a [pocket] watch following Harrison’s own novel designs. …Harrison discovered that timepieces with a relatively small, high frequency oscillator (such as a fast beating, watch balance)…are much more stable … than the earlier large ‘portable clocks’. “

Berwick uses this fascinating story of solving the longitude problem to talk about the need for similar breakthroughs in health care.

Amid the recognized successes of modern medicine, the problems with health care in the United States are well known: accelerating costs, poor outcomes, underserved populations, overuse of pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures. But what are Berwick’s solutions?  Interestingly, he doesn’t focus on making drug delivery better or managing the human body or more efficient billing systems.

Instead, Berwick has looked in another direction and found that a more altruistic approach to life, including such things as empathy, compassion, justice, and kindness are actually equated with better health.

Although applying these qualities to modern health care would be considered by some as a “new view”, the Bible reminds us that there are practical and timely health results when patients (or anyone) feels truly cared for: it’s been around for a long time when it presents a similar altruistic standard with a promise of better health:

“(f)ree the people you have put in prison unfairly and undo their chains. Free those to whom you are unfair and stop their hard labor. Share your food with the hungry and bring poor, homeless people into your own homes. When you see someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and don’t refuse to help your own relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.” [Isa. 58:6-8]

You could say that making altruism the center of health care in individual lives and systems is like the H4 – the Tour de Force – of health care.

Systems change often begins first with a change in individual thinking and then trying out new practices. Taking to heart the guidance given originally by the Biblical author, and more recently by Dr. Berwick, will give an innovative spiritual impulse to our own health and to the health care system.

We can minimize current mechanical approaches and maximize the heart of health care – an H4 in the making.

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Do We Need Steps For Health?

As a father, I remember many times assembling toys for my children. Some of them were complicated. In the end, when I patiently followed the steps for putting these toys together, I accomplished my goal and the kids were happy.

There are other areas in life, too, where following some steps brings about good results.  The Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program is one that is well known for both its foundation in emotional and spiritual elements and its success.

When it comes to maintaining or improving our health, many are looking for that simple list of steps. For example, Sven Eberlein, a freelance writer and journalist in San Francisco has come up with what he calls 9 Simple Steps to Improve Your Health, all of which are supported by research.

I’m wondering, though, if we really need so many linear steps to achieve every goal or to have good health.

From my view we sometimes over-think our problems, and so our solutions can be more complex than need be. We look for step by step solutions that can be followed without any deep thought.

The following two points of guidance, not really a list, have proven time and again to be effective in restoring and maintaining my mental and even my physical health: love God and love people.  And I’m sure they have for others, too. They’re at least as old as the sacred writings in both eastern and Christian theologies. And, Jesus, among all historical figures, truly demonstrated the power of love to heal. His recommendation for a healthy life might have looked something like this: Love and seek God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.

Pretty simple. But also profound.

Yes, Eberlein’s list of behaviors, some listed below, are useful if you want to live a happy life:

  • Laugh to your heart’s delight.
  • Age artfully
  • Work with friends
  • Chat with the neighbors
  • Hope like your life depends on it

… but any list could lull you into the belief that just following it will be all you need to live a healthy and meaningful life.

Achieving health isn’t a simple “one, two, three…” without a thoughtful reflection about one’s essential spiritual nature.  The alignment of our thought with the Divine and living a life of love for others can do more for health than any list of steps.

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Taking Responsibility – Will It Make Us Healthier?

Taking care of my grandchildren reminds me of all those parenting years, from birth to watching them strike out on their own. Once my kids left the nest I sort of forgot just how dependent they were on my wife and me for most of their needs. As they got older their dependency shifted to learning to make wise choices on their own.

Depending on others to occasionally help us with decisions is not unwise. But why does depending entirely on others to make decisions about our health seem to be the norm today?

It’s wise to question this since research supports the concept that when patients are involved in their own health care decisions the outcomes are better.

Taking responsibility for one’s well-being is perhaps not a new idea. We find King Solomon’ s wisdom in the following statement in the Bible written around 950 B.C.

“For as man thinketh in his heart, so is he:” (Prov 23:7)

To me this suggests that even 3,000 years ago it was understood that one’s thoughts directly affect his or her experience, including health. And certainly we are responsible for our own thoughts.

Here are two dramatic examples of how people have taken personal responsibility for their health with positive results.

A diagnosis of MS confronted Heather Garden in 1991. The disease progressed until she was unable to walk on her own or use her arms and hands. After being told by her physicians that she needed to plan for a lifetime of MS, she decided to take responsibility for her health, and to make her own decisions. She began a strict regimen of complimentary and alternative therapies. Today, Heather has no symptoms of the disease and leads a normal active life.

One might argue that Heather’s case was an anomaly, or a miracle. But another case of MS tells us it is not and gives us a different perspective and approach. Jane Starrett was also diagnosed with symptoms of MS. Unlike Heather, however, she didn’t pursue a conventional medical approach or CAM treatments. Rather, she pursued a regimen of prayer which resulted in a reversal of the diagnosis. She, too, leads a very active life today.

Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of how important it is for people to be active in taking responsibility for their own health decisions.

When people do this, like Heather and Jane did, the possibilities for finding solutions are as unlimited and unique as the individuals seeking their own path to permanent health.

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Finding Fun, Not Fear, In Our Senior Years

George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Cultivating the right state of mind can help one stay active and vibrant.

A centenarian friend of mine seemed to understand this point. She lived alone in an upstairs apartment with no elevator. She did all her own cooking and cleaning, kept her house spotless, and managed her own investments. She often said, “I don’t believe God sees me as old.” This centenarian saw age as a reflection of a divine view, not as a number of years.

Clearly a positive outlook is associated with better physical and mental health.

Ciro Conversano, Phd. from the University of Pisa, Italy, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine and his colleagues point out in their literature review that:

Optimism is a tendency to expect good things in the future. …it is apparent that optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life.

And Marcel Olde Rikkert, Geriaitrician and Chair of the Geriatric Department, Radboud University Medical Centre puts it aptly when he says, “If you enjoy aging it will improve your health.”

Even more important, as my friend notes, seeing ourselves as the Divine sees us as a timeless expression of His goodness and perfection, is a great way to gain that outlook.

Writing about a God-based view of our lives, Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy said: “Men and women of riper years and larger lessons ought to ripen into health and immortality, instead of lapsing into darkness or gloom.” She certainly knew what she was talking about. After years of chronic illness and at times invalidism, she lived to be 89 in an age when the average female life expectancy was 48. And, she did her most important work – founding a church and an international daily newspaper – after age 55.

Eating right, staying active and adequate rest are important. But when it gets right down to it, living long, healthy, and happy lives comes from the thoughts we hold about God, ourselves, and what we expect from our future. I take time each day to think and pray about how I see myself, and make sure that I shape my expectations from a Godlike point of view – i.e. a continually fresh, purposeful, and prosperous life.

I highly recommend it.

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Do You Love Enough To Heal Your Dog And Cat? To Bring An Elephant To Tears?

Today my friend Keith shares his perspective on loving animals and our pets.

Recently, a Wildlife team devoted to protecting animals in India approached an elephant cruelly abused and confined for 50 years.

Rescuers, armed with fruit, spoke softly to Raju. Once the elephant felt their love, tears poured down his face.  He’s now living comfortably at an Elephant Care Center.

Love motivated Raju’s rescue. It is love that motivates us to care for our household pets.

I’m convinced every living creature has a spiritual nature and identity that responds to love, and loves.  Love also motivates healing.

For instance, a young girl in the 1830s demonstrated that her father’s farm animals responded to love and prayer. In a book that also describes her healing work for people when she was an adult, she, Mary Baker Eddy, referred to “divine Love” and “Life” as the ultimate healer and source of our love of animals and their love of us.

She wrote, “God is the Life, or intelligence, which forms and preserves the individuality and identity of animals as well as of men.”

Spiritual views heal.  Every prayerful acknowledgement of an animal’s spiritual nature allows more of their intelligence, vitality, and divinely maintained health to appear

If your pet appears unwell, then a growing trust and understanding of “divine Love” and “Life” can be beneficial.

Another woman found divine care to be an effective option for her pets’ needs.  She wrote:  “In college, my adult Siamese cat became listless. The vet diagnosed feline leukemia and said nothing further could be done. When she appeared to be on her deathbed, I started praying. The next thing I knew my cat had traveled up two flights of stairs and tried to jump in my lap. I was so grateful. She was completely healthy again.”

Recently she asked me to pray for her dog, Min Pin, who quickly recovered.

My prayer included these thoughts:

Thank you, Love, for being the real Father-Mother of all. You are the tender life of this Min Pin.

You have made all your beings “very good,” (Genesis 1:31)  – undamaged, beautiful, harmless, useful, fearless.

Your ideas live before and after we can touch them.

Whether we see wings, hooves, beaks, fur, or tails, teach us to see each spiritual creation as you know it. Teach us to love enough to heal.

Again, love motivates you to help and heal. And since you love your pets, perhaps you can view them as spiritual ideas. As you do, very likely, you will rescue and heal the confined and suffering. Your love might bring an elephant to tears.

(Modified) – Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com

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A Healthy Way to Enrich the College Experience

With the return of college students to campuses across the United States often comes the overuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Like many college campuses, the University of Oregon struggles with alcohol abuse by students and party crashers from the community.

As with any drug, alcohol easily lends itself to overuse and abuse. This has been so for centuries. Alcohol-related challenges amongst students were not uncommon at my college more than forty years ago.

Over the years, numerous organizations have mobilized to reduce or eliminate the abuse of drugs and alcohol on campuses. In the last few decades, focusing on the student’s overall wellness and promoting a healthy lifestyle has been key. As one group puts it:

“…as an expanded idea of health. Many people think that if they are not sick, then they are well. However, …wellness is optimal health and vitality, encompassing physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, interpersonal, social and environmental well-being.”

These are all important frameworks when considering the wellness of a college student, but the spiritual aspect really undergirds the other five. This is especially true when it comes to substance abuse because it is often driven by low self-esteem, willingness to be influenced by others, and/or a deep sense of dissatisfaction with one’s life.

Consider this. They define Spiritual Wellness as:

“Possess[ing] a set of guiding beliefs, principles, or values that give meaning and purpose to life. Spiritual wellness is also the capacity to love, have compassion for others, forgiveness, joy and fulfillment.”

These qualities get at the core of the human experience and in some way determine how we view our world and how we relate to others.

Spiritual wellness goes beyond making one a well-rounded, good, and happy person. As retired physician Kay Wyatt, MD writes on allnurses.com, research is growing that spirituality is foundational in wellness and health, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. She talks about pillars of spirituality: prayer, unconditional love, forgiveness, meaning, and a spiritual practice.

Brian E. Udermann, PhD, ATC supports these findings in his literature review on spirituality, health, and healing for athletes:

Strong scientific evidence suggests that individuals who regularly participate in spiritual worship services or related activities and who feel strongly that spirituality or the presence of a higher being or power are sources of strength and comfort to them are healthier and possess greater healing capabilities.

It was while attending college that I made the connection between my well-being, happiness, and the importance of spirituality in my life. I had been searching for a long time for a sense of purpose and where I fit into the larger scheme of things.

As a result of my search, I adopted a Bible based spiritual practice and learned that I not only felt more grounded but that my health was benefited. One important outcome of this discovery was that I learned that alcohol didn’t give me true happiness, nor did it fulfill any of my other wellness dimensions.

Young people today are not that different from when I was in college. Helping students find a sense of spirituality will go far towards achieving their goals of overall well-being.

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Health is More than Meets the Eye

Imagine a future that Michi Kaku describes in his 2011 book Physics of the Future.

“…your health will be silently and effortlessly monitored several times a day without your being aware of it… You will have more sensors hidden in your bathroom and clothes than are found in a modern hospital or university today.

“In the future it will be difficult to die alone.  Your clothes will be able to sense any irregularities in your heartbeat, breathing, and even brain waves by means of tiny chips woven into the fabric.  When you get dressed, you go online.”

As futuristic as this may sound, like watching StarTrek in the 1970’s, we’re clearly on the path to Kaku’s future.

In his article “Health is More than Meets the Eye” my colleague Steve Salt counters the notion that these wearable devices will solve our health problems and suggests that perhaps all the data they’re collecting doesn’t tell the whole story.  He writes:

“…not everyone is convinced the numbers add up. Experts are divided on whether they can deliver on the health promises being made.  After all, wearable health sensors, biometrics, and algorithms don’t begin to tell the whole story of you.”

Read more…

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What the Brain Isn’t – Mind or Love

Neurobiologist Dr. Dan Siegel is astounded that neither scientists, including psychiatrists, nor philosophers nor academicians have come up with a good working definition of mind; nor, can they describe what thinking is.

Mind is clearly not the same as a brain firing electrical impulses through neurons, according to Siegel. No one even knows how much brain and mind overlap. He has come to believe that subjective experience is real, consciousness is real, but the challenge that arises for those in his field is: how can a scientist address what is real when it can’t necessarily be measured in the laboratory?

And, therein resides the biggest challenge also for those who are currently researching the role prayer and spirituality play in health. As studies increasingly show that someone can experience improved health by  expressing spiritual qualities such as forgiveness and compassion and recipients of these qualities can also be healed or reduce susceptibility to illness, our current laboratory based research has come up wanting. What is the connection between each of us with the Divine and with each other? How does it heal?

I’ve found that the key is understanding we are all connected through a higher being that some call Allah, Yahweh or God, and which I like to think of as divine Mind. My compassion, forgiveness and empathy for others has greater power to heal when it is an expression of the connection we all have with the Divine.

According to Siegel, science has made great strides in measuring the brain, but love cannot be found as one of its functions. Nor can our greater connection to others be measured. He uses the term “mindful” to describe the many subjective elements of consciousness – such as love, compassion, fear – that can’t necessarily be seen in brain study or scientific data.

Though elusive for brain scientists, subjective experience cannot be ignored. Nor can mind, which possibly is the source of consciousness and perhaps the vehicle by which we’re all connected.

The Bible has long offered this guidance for healthier living:  “…be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;…” It seems to me that this is the kind of consciousness and connection that heals.

One day science will fully authenticate healthier and longer lives when these qualities and connections are lived.  But it may not be through measuring brain activity.

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Here’s How To Leave Despair For Resilience

A 19th century woman loses her husband after only months of marriage. In ill health, her young child is taken away when family members adopt him out. Her second husband is imprisoned in the civil war, then deserts her. Nearly penniless and in precarious health, she has a life threatening accident. Yet, at the darkest hour she finds a way back to health and later, even thrives. What is the quality that allowed her to bounce back after extreme challenges?

In the 1970‘s, biologists began using the term resilience to describe how ecosystems recover from disturbance and damage. Not long after it was applied to community, social, and psychological conditions as well.  According to Psychology Today resilience is the “ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.”

Today, “[i]n the United States, an estimated 50–60% of people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives, whether through military combat, assault, a serious car accident or a natural disaster.”

Surviving these events and becoming even stronger, in other words, responding with resiliency, is a life saver.

In physics a rubber band inherently possesses the elasticity to return to its original state.  When an individual suffers from trauma or long term stress, returning to normalcy can seem more complicated.

That 19th century woman, Mary Baker Eddy, found strength and resilience to put her life back together through a new insight from her Bible. She not only cheated death but went on to discover a spiritually based method of healing, founded a movement and even established an award winning international newspaper that is still read today.

Speaking of the spiritual method of healing she discovered she says that it:

“….enhances … endurance and mental powers, enlarges … perception of character, gives … acuteness and comprehensiveness and an ability to exceed … ordinary capacity. The human mind, imbued with this spiritual understanding, becomes more elastic, is capable of greater endurance, escapes somewhat from itself, and requires less repose.”

Many have found that spiritual practices are very important to healing.  Leo Hollis, in describing how urban areas survive and return to normalcy after catastrophic events, points out that it’s not technology and urban systems, but trust in our fellow man, and their altruism and compassion — what I see as spiritual qualities, that pull a city through economic or environmental devastation like hurricane Sandy.  He found technology useful but not the main solution.

Likewise, healing deep trauma and disruption require powerful support and for me, it’s trust in a higher being that I can connect to and feel as a palpable presence that gets me out of life’s deep valleys. A deep spiritual reservoir to draw from can be the tipping point for healing.  It certainly was for Eddy.

Resilience and trust in a divine power. These old fashioned “technologies” will help anyone come out of the adversities of life even stronger than before.


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Can We Define Quality Health Care?

Are we always approaching improvements in health care in the right way? Sometimes our efforts to make things better actually have the opposite result.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, MD makes this point in his book Over-diagnosed – Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. Welch looks at how our pursuit of health, with the aid of improved technologies, has resulted in new standards for what is considered “sick”. Unfortunately the newly defined abnormalities are being treated unnecessarily, resulting in consequences worse than the condition that was treated.

Speaking from his own experience as a physician, Welch warns that “… more diagnosis leads to excessive treatment—treatment for problems that either aren’t that bothersome or aren’t bothersome at all. Excessive treatment, of course, can really hurt you. Excessive diagnosis may lead to treatment that is worse than the disease.” (p. 11)

Aside from the detrimental physical effects of over-diagnosis and thus over-treatment, there’s the monetary cost of treating what doesn’t need to be treated. And worse yet is the anxiety and fear that is created when we start to call what was once normal, an abnormality or sickness. The resultant stress can actually create or exacerbate ill health.

Often left out of the examination of quality in health care are the less tangible measures of things such as:

  • does the care include treating the patient as a whole person?
  • Does the care include consideration of the patient’s spiritual beliefs and practices?

Quality in any health care system is a must. And, more and more people agree that quality care happens when patients are treated as whole persons in all dimensions, including physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of being.

This understanding isn’t new. More than a century ago, spiritual activist and health writer Mary Baker Eddy noted:

“The calm, strong currents of true spirituality, the manifestations of which are health … must deepen human experience…”.  And, the human experience can certainly be deepened in the pursuit of excellence in any field, but especially in health care.

We can all appreciate the value of quality and excellence in medicine. That’s especially true when its achieved through deepening the human experience by honoring the currents of spirituality and seeing and treating the whole person.

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    John Clague

    John Clague explores and writes about the relationship between thought, spirituality and health. A retired Lane County Sheriff's Department captain, he is now a Christian Science media and legislative liaison. Read Full
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