Slow Medicine: Compassionate, family-centric approach takes hold


Posted on June 17, 2011

Today, Americans live in a culture that places a high premium on being “fast” – fast food, fast cars, fast service, speedy delivery, and instant gratification. As a result, we often feel great pressure to make decisions quickly. At the same time, we want them to be the “right” decisions, and we can feel frustrated or dismayed when things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped.

This combination of pressure to act and the desire to avoid making mistakes can make for a very stressful decision-making process, but even more so when the decision we need to make is, “What is the right path of care for my aging loved one?”

Dr. Dennis McCullough, professor at Dartmouth Medical School and author of My Mother, Your Mother, is advocating a new and innovative approach, which he calls “Slow Medicine: the compassionate approach to caregiving.”

Although Western medicine has come a long way in offering a prolonged lifespan and quality of life, such advancements and technology can also have the opposite effect: Patients and caregivers can become overwhelmed by too many options. They can be caught up in “death by intensive care,” where the medical treatment is more destructive than the disease itself – often through unexpected side effects, rushed or incorrect diagnoses, or unfinished/premature research.

What is Slow Medicine?

Just as there are currently groups in the U.S. migrating away from “fast,” processed foods towards local, organic, home-grown and home-cooked foods, the field of medicine is developing similar movements.

“Shaped by common sense and kindness, grounded in traditional medicine yet receptive to alternative therapies, Slow Medicine improves the quality of patients’ extended late lives without bankrupting their families financially or emotionally.” Expensive, state-of-the-art medical interventions do not necessarily deliver superior outcomes, Dr. McCullough argues. Gentle, personal care often yields better results, not only for elders in late life, but for the families who love them.”

Slow medicine is:

  • A re-focusing on cultural context and the patient’s and her/her family’s values, rather than viewing the individual as just a “problem to be solved”
  • Family involvement and making decisions together
  • Enlarged support and sustained advocacy for elders

Trust is a keystone of Slow Medicine, and it is created or re-balanced through a devotion to time and an emphasis on relationship-building.

Says Dr. McCullough, “In our quest for quality in the late years of life, Slow Medicine brings together the best ‘medical caring’ with our age-old traditions of support and caring for elders and their families.” Slow Medicine emphasizes comfort instead of merely efficiency. And it is producing some amazing results.

Amramp’s upcoming interview with Dr. McCullough discusses how medical professionals can adopt Slow Medicine in their practices. Read the entire eNewsletter and sign-up here.

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