The Next Revolution in Health Care?








I had the honor of speaking yesterday at a Summit at The Cleveland Clinic dedicated to “Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation.” The 2,200 people attending were comprised of executives and administrators, doctors, nurses and alternative caregivers. I relished the opportunity to talk before such a brilliant and caring audience about a subject dear to my heart: the impact of mind/body interactions on health and healing.

I was invited in part from having been a caregiver to my husband, Paul, in January of 2013, when he underwent mitral valve surgery at the Clinic. The experience gave me a valuable insight into the patient experience and what might be needed to enhance and expedite healing.

I have been interested in mind/body interactions since my childhood stress-induced illnesses, which led to my founding the Institute for the Advancement of Health in 1983 to promote scientific understanding of mind/body interactions in health and disease.

It is clear to me, from both my personal and professional experiences, that patient recovery is directly influenced by patient engagement. This can be realized by expanding communication between patients and members of their health care team, engendering positive emotions and physical states, and deepening human caring and compassion in treatment settings. These enhancers of healing could be the next revolution in medical care.



So, what’s the transformational opportunity for hospitals and health care professionals today? And how can their compassion and empathy enhance the patient experience and recovery?

I believe it’s to expand the function of hospitals from principally delivering medical science and technology, to sharing knowledge, embracing and promoting widespread prevention and wellbeing in health care communities. This will not only enhance healing, but also cut costs.

If you had to be in a hospital, what kind of care would you want to help expedite your healing?

To what extent do you believe that healing is about physical, emotional and spiritual?


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25 Responses to The Next Revolution in Health Care?

  1. lulu550 says:

    From personal experience when my husband fell and had a brain aneurysm I can attest to the need for excellent care that includes time and understanding from doctors, nurses and aides as well as friends and family helping the person in need with love and patience. My husband responded to those in the hospital who took the extra minute to listen to him or just smile and hold his hand, they encouraged him to try harder. He had not a great support group of friends and family I seriously doubt that he would be not only be alive today but very active and about ready to start a blog about his life. Healing is definitely physical, emotional and spiritual. The exact proportion depends on the individual, but watching those in intensive care who did not have the care that I insisted my husband get or friends and family encouraging them wilted while my husband learned to flourish again.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I’m so glad for you and your husband that he has healed and is well today. How nice to hear that he is using his experience to inspire others about the amazing process of healing. Healing is natural, but it often requires the love of those around us to accelerate.

  2. Hi Eileen, Bravo to you for having addressed 2200 staffers at The Cleveland Clinic. It so happens that just this past second I forwarded the hospital’s newsletter to my two sons and husband. Perhaps, reading the newsletter is more preventive than healing, but the two may go “hand in hand”… Maybe, I should refer to my father who may have missed less than a full week of work in his years of employment which ended at age 70+ yrs of age. He enjoyed his day, family, activities and music, sports broadcasts and being with my mother. As I have noted in past short replies to your blog, my father was special. He was a big believer in positive thinking. It works! My mother was, always, reading books, listening to tapes about health, writings from Wellesley College’s Stone Center, exercising, cooking–you know, all that keeps one strong. My role models have inspired me to “fight” for something because I came from such a wonderful family. I “fight” so hard for the injustices that I FEEL from my employment because MEN would NOT have had to endure “it”.
    Have I healed–NO. Have I tried to heal–YES. I just fall asleep from the stressful remembrances.
    I try every day to enjoy the day– my day. “I do.”… Faithful and loyal, I love to read about magic of
    healing… Thank you for your writings— they are open minded. This morning I spotted a cardinal in my flowering tree, a nesting robin outside of my bedroom window, heard the birds singing at 5 am and perked up ! You have the wand…

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      May courage and freedom be yours Elaine. Freedom to become yourself, fully. I see from your responses how dedicated you are to your family of origin, as well as your nuclear family and I hope you find strength in your connection to the many wonderful aspects of yourself, your friends, and nature.

  3. Eileen I loved this! – especially given the current state of dissatisfaction in women’s health right here in VT – the only New England state that still opposes women’s choice of a freestanding, independent birth center, despite that being, everywhere else, a wonderful model of spiritual/emotional support whose outcomes show the benefit of that approach: a 4-6% surgical-birth rate, vs. the standard 25-30% rate in hospital ‘birth centers’. I’ve written about this in the next Vermont Woman – because a reader contacted us about why there are no independent birth centers in VT and what are we doing about it! It seems that the time is right to expand this model of true women’s health care reform – at the patient-centered and community level. Yes We Can!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Gosh Katharine, I was shocked to hear that Vermont opposes such a birth center. Perhaps the new Institute for Health and Healing at UVM will help to move this forward. They intend to expand Integrative health, educational and clinical services and foster research innovations. You probably know Patricia A. Prelock, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BCS-CL, who’s the Dean at the College of Nursing & Health Sciences. If not, I hope you an connect with her.

  4. Dear Eileen,
    This is such important work, I am so glad you are engaged in it again. Healing is about all three aspects of our selves, and to have hospitals that understood that as institutions would be amazing!!
    thank you!

  5. Sue Dixon says:

    Eileen: I appreciate the topic of today’s blog, and the advancements the medical field is making in the arena of mind/body (I would dare to add “spirit”) to healing. Since my sister was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma January 2014, I’ve spend significant time dialed into the healthcare world. If you have a chance, take a peek at The Huntsman Institute in Salt Lake City: it’s a gorgeous facility offering an inspiring level of patient care. Philanthropist Jon Huntsman, Sr. had it constructed from marble and glass in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains so that when we cure cancer it can become 5 star resort. It’s hallways are filled with original artwork, patients order “room service” for themselves and their families, there is a beautiful outdoor terrace and a fine restaurant overlooking the valley. In addition to the empathy and compassion of health care providers, when confronted with the horrors of cancer, families treated in a facility like Huntsman preserve their dignity and humanity; which I know supports healing. My sister Mary has out lived the life expectancy projected upon diagnosis by 5 months now and continues glowing strong. Thank you for opening this provocative and important topic of mind/body care in healing. Sue

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Sue: What an inspiring story about your sister, Mary. I’m so glad to know about the Huntsman Institute, and how helpful they have been to your her. More power to her in he continued healthy prognosis. I’m sure having such a loving family as yours has been a big part of her healing and recovery. I add my good wishes for continued healing.

  6. Hello, I’m encouraged to hear you advocate in this way. I wonder if you saw the article in the Burlington Free Press 5/19/15 titled “Sanders touts benefits of yoga, Chinese medicine”. The article quotes Dr. Tracy Williams Gaudet saying, “The soul and the heart are the doorways to healing and health of the body and mind.” She also said that the U. S. health care system should help patients connect with a personal sense of purpose and joy, rather than simply treating individual symptoms.

    I would be interested in seeing a copy of your presentation at the Summit if you are willing to share it.

    Your book has interested me a great deal and now to hear of this is even more encouraging.

    Thanks very much for what you are doing.

    Jackie McMakin
    Shelburne VT

  7. Eileen, another triumph! Is there an archive of your talk that we can access?

    And, may I add, you were not only a pioneer in the mind/body/heart connection and the vital role in wellness and healing, you were also an early proponent of the radical view that some people excel in ’emotional intelligence.’ Believe this term was also your inspiration?

    These innovations are now accepted, yet not always in practice in our hospitals, clinics – and classrooms.

    Please keep awakening others to these truths with your clear and compelling voice, and tender heart.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Thanks Kerry. I am touched by your words. Yes, Dan Goleman credits me with being the first to introduce him to the subject of emotional intelligence, though I called it emotional literacy, and I think he found a better word.

      I hope you can find what you are looking for and more on the conference website:

      It is so heartening to see the growing revolution in health care to amplify empathy and compassion in the patient experience, as well as for all the caregivers.

  8. Marie Kireker says:

    Yes, Eileen, thank you for writing about this experience.
    Also check out an organization we have been supporting for a number of years, The SChwartz CEnter, located in Boston and house at MGH.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Will do Marie. Thanks for your suggestion. Great to see you the other night.

  9. Joanne DePuy says:

    Congratulations on continuing to spread the mind/body message to an increasing number. I was blessed to work with you in 1983 as your Napa Valley contact for The Institute for the Advancement of Health I am so proud of you and your work. We have just formed The Napa Medical Research Foundation (501 ©(3) nonprofit organization in Napa. It is headed by Marko Bodor, MD…a remarkable caring physician whom you met last fall when you were here with your book. You cast a long and luminous shadow!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Joanne, you have always been a mover and shaker in the causes of your interest. I’m so glad to hear how far you have come with the Napa Medical Research Foundation. All my best to you!

      • Joanne DePuy says:

        Eileen: I have just finished BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande, MD. It is an incredible book on aging, dying and what medicine can and cannot do. If you have not read it, I recommend it most highly.

  10. Loved this blog, Eileen. You’ve come full circle professionally/personally–Integrating your vision, commitment, inspiration and leadership in the field of mind/body connection and your love and courage in all family matters, especially of course, Paul’s surgery, and ongoing recovery. Love to you both. In speech or writing, you continue to be an inspiration to so many…..(oh, and speaking of speech and writing—just saw Dale DeLetis!)

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      How cool that you just saw Dale! You are right that I have come full circle. In fact, I was thinking after my talk that everything I have done in my life led to the moment of my speech in Cleveland. It was a very powerful experience for me. I felt truly honored to have been invited. Now for a few hours of rest!

  11. Richard Trenner says:

    The “feeling” aspects of staying healthy as well as of recovering from illness—aspects such as empathy, engagement, patience, and respect—are very important indeed. So thank you for writing “The Next Revolution in Health Care.”

    (By the way, can we see a video of your talk at the Cleveland Clinic?)

    I believe that a great obstacle to “the ‘feeling’ aspects” lies in health care as a form of business, certainly in this country and, to a greater or lesser degree, in other countries. Unlike most people, I’m fortunate to have put together a little group of excellent physicians who look after me from head to toe. But so many healthcare providers are under pressure to get patients in and out the door quickly; as a result, the time for any “healing connection” is scarce. And so much of health care in the US is about paperwork in one form or another. (The average annual per physician cost of “paperwork” in this country is about $100,000.) Moreover, the best-performing investment sector in the US in recent years has been health care…. Is health where the biggest profits in any “industry” should lie? I don’t think so! Yes, people need to make money, but what we lose in focusing on capitalizing on health care is the ability to build good health around the whole person—body and SOUL.

    Good thoughts—Richard

    P. S. Happy 100th birthday to your father!

  12. Phyll says:

    We share a deep and passionate interest in this field: health care with compassion. A few years ago, my Mom was taken to the ER for some minor disorientation (at age 92 here in MI) and before we knew it, she was put into restraints, injected with harsh drugs, forced into a medically induced coma and left for dead in the ICU. It was the most life-shattering experience I’ve ever faced.

    Now, at age 96 1/2, she is alive and thriving in assisted living in Haverford, PA, near my sister who spends much time with and kindly cares for her every day. With my sister’s excellent care, my Mom has recovered from this traumatic experience and is doing well. It was only through such compassionate care and understanding that my Mom, literally, arose from the dead.

    I feel as strongly as you, Eileen, about the need for this kind of care in hospitals and from our medical professionals. Right now, it’s all bout covering themselves legally, avoiding malpractice suits and doing “whatever it takes”—-at the risk, and often peril, of patients–young AND old.
    (Especially old). A critical issue whose time has come—and is, truly, long overdue.

    May we see a video of your talk (or a transcript?) Thank you for supporting this important cause!

  13. eileenrockefeller says:

    Dear Phyll, What a heartbreaking experience you went through with your mom. Thank goodness she came out the other side and has continued to receive really good care. I’m sure she is a very dear person from what I know of you. I love the idea of spawning a revolution in empathy and compassion!
    Here’s the website of the summit where hopefully you can find even more than my speech.

  14. Timothy Clarke says:

    Hi Eileen, Great cause. Hospitals, as I found out for the first time last year, can have an anti-healing atmosphere for many, I think.
    I stayed in hospital a total of about 20 days/40 nursing shifts total last year, with 10+ in January, getting an emergency Colostomy and another 10+last August, in a reversal operation in August, putting things back to normal. In the end I think The Ward was the biggest risk.

    In the end, it was as you say, that emotional well-being was paramount to healing. Many Health Care Systemic inefficiencies as well, which then contributed to Patient non-well-being.

    The Doctors, both Operative and Intensive Care Nurses etc… were amazing and most of the Nurses on the Ward, although not most enough…

    Being on the Ward, was at times like being a Customer in a very expensive Restaurant and the Chefs/Doctors are the best Michelin Star Professionals, but as soon as the food leaves the Kitchen Pass-Through, the service quality becomes a mix of near McDonald’s/Beer-slinging quality up to also Michelin Star Quality. So one shift will be great and the next, the Floor Staff will be a nightmare and the food can now be dropped on your head, or you get accidentally stabbed or they put their fingers in your food first etc… Hell’s Restaurant, but the Kitchen is very well ran.

    I did write to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority later, who run all the hospitals and gave them my “Audit”, as I didn’t want my kids ever being stuck in that situation. I also had a Public Home Care Nurse come for 2 months after until the 1′ Cesarean type incision was finally closed for the second time in 8 months, so I got to see that side of the Nursing as well and the more experienced Home Care Nurses were amazing people.. So here is a nutshell:

    1) The Home Care Nurse (all who were Journey-Men/Women amazing professionals and wonderful) gave it away, when I mentioned that the Spectrum of the Nurses’ Job Functions was too wide, and while they were doing serious Post-Operative Dressing changes, Intravenous’ set-ups and changes /monitoring etc…etc…, they were also getting glasses of water, changing very dirty sheets at times, getting Kleenex tissues…
    BUT meanwhile, their very serious stuff was being done at times “very not well” and meanwhile they were tied up with menial labor, while being paid top dollar and having top training…
    ….So the Home Nurse explained it: “The Nurses Union would never let others take those tasks away from them”.
    That was the biggest issue/effector, which I think was harming the Ward System. The mis-use of valuable Professional time, resulting in the lowering of the level standards, which in my opinion, must held high in the high-risk environment of post-operative healing.
    ….In closing on that point, the Nurses themselves, not to their fault, during shift, end up over-tasked on menial things and rushed on the high-risk maneuvers, which can introduce infections.
    I guess I saw a need to give the Professional Nurses a chance to do their job to it’s best, in those areas most needed, but the Labor Environment has seemed to direct the workforce into maximizing the jobs on the ward for them. The Nurses Union seemed to have enveloped a lion’s share of the Ward Tasks, outside of/below their skill-range, for a Hospital Ward and the costs of their labor.

    2) Second issue with the Nurses, both Male and Female, was in fact “Empathy”. I think a large proportion do it because it does feed their soul and life, as a person feels, when doing something that is helping others and society as a whole. For these individuals, I think they feed off of the experience and they gain from it and grow from it as an energy source in itself. I tell my kids to do that until the day they die. To never “retire”, but to always “enjoy” the feeling of doing something “constructive”, in whatever way that constructive behavior is directed. And I think the best nurse were like that. and I hope my kids pick careers that give them such satisfaction day to day, even with the challenges.
    The worst of the Nurses though, seemed to do it because it was/is a high-paying and relatively short training “job” and for them, you might as well be a customer in a bar ordering a beer. They are changing an IV while talking to the other nurse about their upcoming vacation and moping around…Maybe simply not suited for job description and maybe even 30% of the workforce being like that. The great Nurses were so great though. They seemed to love what they were doing and I felt very thankful for it.

    3) The last point is only about how “Privacy/isolation/a private room/space” helped me and I never actually got a private room. I was always in a 4-Bed room and it was crazy when the somewhat deranged and semi-violent hard drug user was in the next bed, during the first 10 day stay, and one woman kept on finding metal things to bag on her bed-frame, and that looped for two days or so during the second stay, but in the last 5 days /10 shifts (7am-7pm), they put me by the window and my bedroom mates were quite and doing their own thing and that was good. maybe some people need to be socially motivated during Patient stays, but for myself, with a tablet, a sketch pad, meditation and just trying to rest and slowly extend my mobility to a “check-out” state, which the Hospital wants as well, to cut down costs.
    In this case, the four bed room maybe could be “Cubicle-ized”, as the inner beds were terrible and the separator curtains were always left semi-open, so Privacy was not great, which added to the non-appeal of the 4 bed room.

    But all in all, I am glad to have survived The Ward and when they build a new Richmond General Hospital hopefully they will take Patient Bed Separation into account.

    4) I also mentioned to them the Internet Of Things. After watching the highly-trained nurses run back and forth for silly stuff, I thought perhaps a micro-intercom system and/or cameras might do it, instead of the light and bell at the nurses’ station. The running back and forth from the nurses station was nuts, so many dollars burnt up and the nurses frustration levels increased from trivial calls. In the end, over-all, we have a good system in the West and I’m happy to have survived and I am awed by the modern medicine and the amazing works Doctors can do.

    That’s it, have a great day all!

  15. eileenrockefeller says:

    Hi Tim, you have clearly thought through a lot of the issues. I’m sorry you had to suffer in the multi person wards, and at the hands of the impatient nurses. But it sounds like you had some good experiences too. Here’s to continued recovery and enjoyment of life!

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