Workforce Health + Benefits

A Heart Surgeon's Perspective on Wellness Programs

By Gary H. Dworkin, MD RPVI

At the age of 10, I began to dream of becoming a heart surgeon. I was immediately fascinated by the announcement of the first heart transplant performed in Cape Town, South Africa. My curiosity about the human body and intense desire to master a profession gave me the drive to become a heart surgeon. In my career, I learned how to treat a variety of serious medical conditions with both surgical technique and unrelenting medical vigilance. And, I had the opportunity to practice what I learned in both the U.S. and less developed countries.

Along the way, I realized that much of what I was treating with sophisticated, expensive and highly reproducible techniques were conditions that were mostly preventable, but often not curable. I have been opening chests, stopping hearts, taking them apart and putting them back together for years. I always hope my patients go on to live healthy lives.

Despite my training and a profession designed to produce herculean feats daily, I have grown concerned that I have not had a significant impact on improving the general health of my patients. While I have tried to be an exemplary role model for my patients, (I run, swim, lift weights and have done so for 40+ years), my specialty has had minimal success at reducing unhealthy behaviors, even after the fact.

I recently thought about why we doctors, with our disease-fighting intensity and evidence-based medical data, are not able to prevent the very medical conditions we are treating. Virtually all of my energy is spent helping those at the very end of their disease process. There must be a way to help those at the very beginning.

Personal “wellness” is for most an ill-defined concept. As a doctor, I believe it’s important to help people before they have a health risk. Bravo Wellness has made a substantial impact in helping people do just that—avoid the disease path. Not only does Bravo define personal wellness with clarity, but it goes much further. Bravo offers to help people achieve a degree of wellness based on incentivizing the actual achievement of improving health and well-being.  Behavioral economic theory and its practice endorse Bravo’s model. Prevention of disease states and achieving wellness are one in the same. However, it is Bravo’s practice of incentivizing the achievement of wellness in an equitable and lasting way that will move the needle towards preventing the diseases I treat.

Gary H. Dworkin, MD RPVI began his career at the Cleveland Clinic and is now a board-certified cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon practicing in Tampa Bay, Florida. He has served many years on the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Board and is now a Past-President of the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association.

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