As a youngster in Miami, Vivek Murthy enjoyed hanging out at his dad’s primary-care practice. Being around those patients prompted him to realize that so much of what brought them into the office was preventable.
These days, as Surgeon General of the United States, Murthy is doing something about it. And he wants the rest of the healthcare community to join him. Speaking Tuesday at Scientific Sessions, Murthy encouraged clinicians and researchers to find more, and more modern, ways to help.
“Now is the time for us to expand our definition of success when it comes to health,” he said. “Success should be the patient who never has to walk through the door of a clinic or a hospital in the first place.”
Murthy cited an explosion of chronic disease that’s responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in America and well over $1 trillion in healthcare costs, because prevention efforts have fallen short. He urged healthcare providers to help build “a culture of prevention,” focusing on information and environment.
“We have to be creative about using different messages, using different messengers and employing different platforms to reach people where they are, to ensure that the maximum number of people are getting the information about health that they need,” he said.
Yet information is only a start, since most people know they should exercise more or eat better. The struggle is getting them to do it. That’s where the environment comes into play, such as cities and workplaces making healthy choices easier and more affordable.
For example, in Wabasso, Florida, community leaders fixed up sidewalks, turned vacant lots into parks and added better lighting. Two years later, 95 percent of residents surveyed had increased their activity levels, Murthy said.
Murthy acknowledged that many healthcare professionals haven’t been taught how to change environments, and it’s not easy. But he urged them to try, offering the story of Dr. David Sagbir, a cardiologist from Westerville, Ohio, as an example.
After years of counseling patients about diet and exercise, he found that only a handful of patients were getting the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity. So he began asking patients to meet him in a park so they could walk together. More than 100 showed up the first time. Now, there are more than 160 chapters nationwide of an organization he built called Walk With A Doc.
“The patients who participate in this program are 80 percent more likely to increase their level of physical activity,” Murthy said. “The walks they do also provide time for doctors and patients to talk freely and to strengthen their relationship in ways that are often quite difficult in the hustle and bustle of a busy clinic.”
Murthy encouraged medical professionals to provide the guidance patients need.
“Dr. Sagbir’s example teaches us that we, too, have the potential to bring good health to millions of people by building a prevention-based society,” he said. “That’s what our country needs. And that’s what I hope we can create together.”