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From the Townsend Letter
June 2009

Pathways to Healing
Samueli Institute Proposes New National Wellness Initiative
by Elaine Zablocki

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In late December 2008, a group of 25 science, health, and policy experts assembled in Washington, DC, to offer the Obama transition team their thoughts on health-care reform and to comment on a white paper developed by the Samueli Institute (Alexandria, Virginia). Approximately 125 people participated in the discussion through a national conference call. Considering the time of year – many people were celebrating the holidays with their families – it was a surprising and hopeful sign to have so many people considering the best ways to improve our health-care system.

The Samueli Institute was founded in 2001 by Wayne B. Jonas, MD, who had previously served as the director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

The institute's vision is a world in which healing processes are the formative concept for achieving and maintaining wellness and ameliorating chronic disease. The mission of the Samueli Institute is to transform health care through the scientific exploration of healing. At present, the institute has several initiatives under way, including research on "Optimal Healing Environments"; integrative medicine in the military; and the brain, mind, and healing.

WIN: A Wellness Initiative for the Nation
In collaboration with leaders in the fields of health policy, health promotion, and integrative health-care practices, the Samueli Institute has drafted and is promoting a "Wellness Initiative for the Nation," which suggests several important tools that could help us prevent chronic illness and move towards a productive self-care society.
The first and most important step: to create an executive or congressional office, with a director and staff, who would focus on developing policy related to lifestyle-based chronic disease prevention, health promotion, and integrative health-care practices. These policies and programs "would be grounded in the continuity of health and the prevention of illness throughout the human lifecycle," the WIN document emphasizes.

"The point here is that the policymakers need broad authority to coordinate activities across various departments that are relevant to health promotion," explains Matthew Fritts, MPH, senior research associate at the Samueli Institute. "Our key proposals relate to many different aspects of the government; they would include economic incentives and technological support for wellness. Creating an office focused on these issues could potentially have a strong impact."

Four Key Proposals
In addition, the wellness initiative includes several proposals that would make an enormous difference for all of us if they were implemented. They would function like yeast to slowly transform both our culture and our institutions surrounding health and health care.

They include:

  • A network of national and local leaders in health promotion, disease prevention, and integrative practices to maintain a wellness vision and guide policies in implementing this new paradigm. These "Systems Wellness Advancement Teams" would work to translate prevention and health promotion practices into local delivery options and policy changes.

    "We picture a network of transdisciplinary teams across the nation that would look for ways to actualize recommendations on health promotion," Fritts says. "In coordination with the Wellness Office, these teams would help implement and carry out recommendations and policy efforts, in collaboration with community health centers and state and local public health departments."
  • Professional training for health and wellness coaches. This training will qualify individuals to focus full time on prevention, creating health and healing, and enhancing productivity. It would facilitate state-licensed health-care practitioners' gaining specialist certification in prevention, health, and wellness delivery. This would offer additional training to providers already in practice, on how to offer increased health education and emphasize wellness. "It would also develop new health and wellness coaches, as an additional discipline," Fritts explains. "People who are not currently licensed clinical providers could pursue appropriate training and eventually be certified as health and wellness coaches. They might work within traditional care settings, or in schools and workplaces."
  • An advanced information tracking and feedback system (a health-promotion technology tool kit) would deliver personalized wellness education, customized to each person's level of readiness, computer capabilities, and stage of life. This wellness tool kit could interface with electronic health records, and would be a valuable tool for health and wellness coaches, the health-care delivery system, and the general public.

    "In this proposal, we're looking for ways to leverage information technologies to improve health," Fritts says. "For example you could use your cell phone or a handheld device to help monitor healthy behaviors. People could receive reminders, or enter data on how much they exercised. Just having some easily accessible interface could help increase self-awareness and monitoring of lifestyle choices that cause or exacerbate chronic disease."
  • Economic incentives for individuals, communities, and public and private sector institutions to create and deliver self-care training, wellness products, and preventive health-care practices. Intellectual property protections to reward wellness innovations. Incentives for personal and community activities that create and promote public wellness values.

    "The new administration has a strong interest in reducing health-care costs, since they are working to stave off a looming financial disaster in our health-care system," Fritts explains. "We believe that by using an integrative approach and emphasizing true prevention and self-responsibility for health, we can reduce costs. We might even see positive economic incentives such as lower insurance premiums for people who adopt healthy behaviors."

The WIN proposal emphasizes that "The United States is first in spending for healthcare but 37th in health status among industrialized nations. If applied in concert, these recommendations could be a 'triple multiplier' of health, productivity and economic stimulus for our nation."

Next Steps
The proposal, as well as supporting documentation and a formal report from the national group discussion, has all been forwarded to the Obama team.

In addition, the Samueli Institute is presenting this information to open-minded legislators in the House and the Senate. They are working together with like-minded organizations such as the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC) and the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC) to generate public support for the Wellness Initiative for the Nation.

Elaine Zablocki is the former editor of CHRF News Files.

The Samueli Institute: 703-299-4800;

Wellness Initiative for the Nation:

The Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium:

The Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care:

On February 23 Wayne B. Jonas, MD, president of the Samueli Institute, testified on "Principles of Integrative Health: A Path to Health Care Reform" before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. His testimony is archived, in video and written formats, at The site also includes testimony from other notable speakers at the hearing, including James S. Gordon, MD; Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN; Herbert Benson, MD; Brian M. Berman, MD; and Kathi J. Kemper, MD, MPH.


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