With patient panels swelling and reimbursements shrinking, many practices face a dichotomy between providing the high-touch, high quality care their patients need and preserving their own financial solvency. It might be tempting (and certainly more cost-effective) to rely on medications, technology and interventions to do the heavy lifting of patient management. However, a growing number of physicians are rejecting this practice in favor of slow medicine.

Slow medicine favors doing things at the right speed, and as well as possible in lieu of convenience and quick (short-term) fixes. Slow medicine has been around for over 20 years, but just like its counterpart, slow food, it’s only recently started gaining popularity.

More food for thought: According to the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, patients living in communities rich with healthcare resources aren’t necessarily having better outcomes. Is it possible these patients (and their counterparts in areas with considerably fewer healthcare resources) can achieve better health and quality of life through slow medicine?

Here we offer four parallels between slow food and slow medicine:

  1. Honoring Community
    Slow food: Success and abundance are the result of growers, producers and those who prepare food working together. Slow food is more enjoyable when shared with others.
    Slow medicine: Patients experience better outcomes when they participate in shared decision making, have access to community support resources and families or friends are involved in their daily lives. 
  2. Emphasizing Local and Organic
    Slow food: Eating organic, minimally processed foods. Also favoring foods that are in season and grown within a small radius of where people purchase them.
    Slow medicine: Receiving coordinated care, either from physicians within the same health system or from a referral network that values collaborative care. Emphasizing lifestyle changes over medications and using interventions sparingly.
  3. Gardening to Feed One’s Self and Well Being
    Slow food: Growing your own food so you have an appreciation for where it comes from. This can also help you feel more fulfilled and connected to nature.
    Slow medicine: Taking a “horticultural approach” to medicine, where the body is the plant. This is in contrast to conventional medicine, which views the body as a machine and the doctor as a mechanic. Dr. Victoria Sweet eloquently sums up the difference, “someone has to fix the machine, but the plant can fix itself.”
  4. Being Methodical and Acting Intentionally
    Slow food: Using preparation techniques that complement a food’s natural flavor profiles, even if these techniques aren’t fast or convenient. Savoring your meal and appreciating the positive effects that slow food has on your mood and health.
    Slow medicine: Recognizing that improving a patient’s well being takes time. This includes careful interviewing, active listening and thoughtfully using evidence-based practices.

Are you ready to start incorporating the principles of slow medicine in your practice? Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.


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