Guest Speaker Envisions Health Care's Future

Sep 20, 2012

Click the first "Listen" option above to hear the Dakota Digest that airs on SDPB Radio. Select the second "Listen" option to hear complete interview with Doctor Carl Hammerschlag. The conversation includes one of his experiences with legendary physician Patch Adams.

Health care as we understand it is changing. That’s the message a nationally recognized psychiatrist offers hundreds of South Dakota health care professionals. Doctor Carl Hammerschlag explains that he welcomes a new perspective in health care.

With a story about underwear, Dr. Carl Hammerschlag captures the attention of more than 700 health care professionals.

"I learned, when I was a kid, some interesting behaviors that I still do today. I change my underwear, for example, every day," Hammerschlag says. "I hear my mother whispering in my ear, 'Change your underwear. God forbid, you’ll be run over by a bus on the way to school. The first thing that the doctor will say in the emergency room is, ‘Did you see this kid’s underwear?’"

Even in a gigantic, dimly-lit room sprawling with tables and chairs, the man is hard to miss. At 6-foot-6 and perched on podium, people crane their necks to see him speak. His underwear tale isn’t just an ice breaker; Hammerschlag has a point.

"Once you learn the behavior, it’s difficult to give it up," Hammerschlag says.

The Arizona psychiatrist is in the Great Plains region to explain how that lesson applies to the health care industry for the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. The doctor walks away from the bustling convention rooms to a table near an indoor waterfall. This is where he discusses his take on health care’s chrysalis.

"The future of health care, the future of medicine is in the movement from intervention – diagnosis and treatment – to prediction – who’s likely to get sick? – and prevention, how we can inspire and help people become the principle agents in their own healing," Hammerschlag says.

As Hammerschlag talks about finding new methods to advance medicine and promote healing, Val Royal nods her head throughout the keynote. She adds to the doctor’s concern that people seek too much treatment so they can label their struggles.

"I’ll be honest. I’ll say I’m 47. I’m proud of it. I can remember only a handful of times I went to the doctor. One time when I cut my toe and I had to have stitches. Otherwise we pretty much had to be dead before we’d go in," Royals says. "You know, now… pop a pill, pop a pill."

Royal works as the director of Health Information Management at Spearfish Regional. She triumphs patients’ rights to champion their own medical care, but she observes the downside of prescription drug ads and too-frequent visits to physicians.

"You go to the doctor and hopefully think they’re going to give you medicine. A lot of times, it’s viral. You’re mad because they won’t give it to you. Well, antibiotics aren’t going to help something viral," Royal says. "We just expect that they’re going to give us that pill to make us better, but the times have changed from when we were growing up versus now.

Cynthia Paulson sits next to Royal. Paulson is a Health Information student. She says she sees one of health care’s challenges every day. Her son lives it.

"You know, the teacher couldn’t control him in the classroom, and so she demanded that I take him to the doctor to get him on some prescription so during the school day he would sit in his desk and he wouldn’t be a problem," Paulson says.

Paulson says some kids do need medicine so they focus and function, but she agrees with Dr. Hammerschlag that too many people are getting blanket diagnoses that come with pill bottles.

"In this country, if you’re feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment, you could be suffering from a disease," Hammerschlag says. "We are bombarded with television advertisements on virtually every program from major sports events to any soap opera that says, if you are shy, you could have a social anxiety disorder. If you’re feeling sad, you could be depressed. If you are tired at the end of the day, you could require something that wakes you up. There is a pill virtually for everything."

Hammerschlag has limited time at the convention, but he still hosts an open, informal discussion with eight or nine people. Just as he preaches inspiring patients to become accountable for their own health, Hammerschlag quietly empowers these health care professionals. He says they have a responsibility to provide excellent care, but individuals bear a burden, too.

"Real people, like you and I, Kealey, need to learn to eat better. We need to learn to stress less. We need to find a way to exercise more, because it will keep us healthier," Hammerschlag says. "We need to drink less, and we nee d to stop smoking. That’s what ordinary people can do."

Those foundational changes, Hammerschlag says, help bring health care’s mission from disease treatment to wellness.