“What’s her name?” Robin William’s character boldly states in the 1998 movie on the early career of Dr. Patch Adams. He stands out among a perplexed group of medical students after hearing their preceptor list a long medley of complex medical conditions and frightening prognosis with no regard for the obvious look of concern on the patient’s face. Not many of our readers are old enough to remember how medicine was practiced in 70s, but the film paints a fairly comprehensible picture of what it must have been like—and what it’s still like at times today.
The idea of treating the whole person, including their well-being, or practicing preventative care alongside traditional medicine is relatively new to modern medicine. Osteopathic, complementary, alternative, and holistic medicine all take similar, yet different approaches to care delivery.
Dr. Patch Adams helped bring to the mainstream his philosophy of a compassionate approach at the Gesundheit Institute, which he founded. In the movie, Dr. Adams struggles to change the culture in an otherwise rigid and purely scientific medical school environment. Other students questioned whether his ability to think emotionally would conflict with the logic necessary to diagnose the patient. When he took the time to meet their emotional needs through humor, it was the more hands-on staff, like the nurses, who began to note the turnaround in their patients.
The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care works with hospitals to evolve traditional approaches in the planning, delivery, and evaluation of health care to one that is governed by collaborative partnerships among health care providers, patients, and families. In a report by the American Holistic Nurses Association, it was noted through evidence-based practice that the combination of the best available research with the clinicians’ expertise/judgment and the patients’ preferences/values lead to higher-quality outcomes. More specifically, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, found that 33% of Americans used complementary approaches in 2012.
As health communicators, we have the opportunity to take a less “medical” approach to the delivery of our messages no matter how big or small our role—the delicate balance of providing approachable information to our consumers is what makes our work an art. As we go about our daily business, whether we are copywriters or provide care at the bedside, we should strive to remember Dr. Adam’s patient, “Marsha,” in the movie and how much happier she would have been if her worry were put to ease.
Patch Adams (the movie), is a new release on Netflix as of March 2015. For NIH recommendations on reliable health resources for consumers interested in complementary and integrative health, click here.