Wellness and Wellness Tourism: More Than a Lifestyle Choice
Posted on 17 August 2013 by Josef Woodman
In 1997 I cofounded MyDailyHealth.com, one of the world’s first online wellness sites, eyeing a projected $2 trillion US healthcare crisis and looming challenges of the sedentary workplace and harmful lifestyle habits. The idea was to offer employee incentives for wellness behaviors that would in turn foster a healthier, more productive workforce.
We were long before our time; after four challenging years we sold the company in 2001.
More than a decade later, the annual US healthcare price tag has mushroomed to nearly $3 trillion (a staggering 18% of the nation’s GDP—and rising!). Some $300 billion can be attributed directly to preventable illness and the consequences of poor lifestyle habits—tobacco, excessive alcohol usage and obesity are the three biggies.
Why then has wellness and prevention not played a more prominent role in the larger US healthcare dialog?
Part of the answer can be found in the countercultural roots of wellness. After all, wellness caught on in the ‘60s, more as spiritual quest than practical discipline, with all the associated groovy vernacular—mindfulness, mind-body healing, be-here-now. Until quite recently, wellness practices have been largely associated with meditation, drum circles, healing chants, and hiking retreats. Its leaders were the Richard Alperts and Deepak Chopras of the world, deeply steeped in alternative lifestyle and spiritual journey.
In parallel, the healthcare system here in America has been far more intent on healing the sick than keeping people healthy—much of this focus entrenched and by design. Recent whistle-blowers such as journalist Shannon Brownlee and Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Stephen Nissen have shined harsh light on the state of our healthcare system, where status quo stakeholders are content to conduct business as usual while trumpeting the latest, most expensive, heroic surgical and pharmaceutical procedures, citing the sanctity of human life with little regard to quality, or preventive measures.
Until quite recently, our healthcare system has almost exclusively been in the illness business: medical schools provide precious little training about preventive care; clinical trials for alternative healing strategies are lobbied or ridiculed out of existence; and physicians are too often over-testing, overprescribing, and overtreating, focusing on the symptoms of illness rather than the promotion of physical and mental health and well-being.
The good news is that a more purpose-based, scientific approach to wellness and preventive care has finally arrived on the healthcare scene, mostly in the form of employee, workplace, and corporate wellness. Wellness is in fact becoming big business as millions of dollars of initiatives have been written into the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Even more encouraging, wellness programs and alternative health strategies are finding their way into venerated medical facilities. Duke University School of Medicine now boasts a multimillion-dollar Center for Living and, more recently, the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine, offering wellness-focused programs in massage and bodywork, acupuncture, behavioral counseling, and “integrative health coaching.” Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medical center have followed suit with wellness and preventive health programs within their walls.
Developed nations flagging under the societal burdens of bloated healthcare costs have much to learn from countries already delivering improved care at a lower cost. This global perspective connects a shift from the traditional “fix-it” model of healthcare toward wellness and prevention in creating healthier populations and economies. Outside the US, wellness strategies are often more evolved, giving rise to a new travel category—wellness tourism—enabling the healthcare consumer to choose among a growing array of mental and physical improvement programs in some 30 destinations around the world.
The newly opened Bahamas Medical Center in Nassau offers antiaging treatments, nutraceuticals, and yoga. RAK Hospital, a specialty clinic in Dubai, last year opened a wellness center within the facility—The Spa at RAK Hospital—to provide its patients alternatives to traditional clinical care. On a national and public policy level, countries such as Norway and Denmark help keep patients with chronic conditions away from expensive hospital procedures by subsidizing treatments designed to promote wellness, including travel to destinations such as Turkey and Hungary for thermal treatments.
Perhaps an emphasis on wellness and prevention will find its way into the growing medical infrastructure of emerging economies in time to prevent the epidemic consequences of, for example, childhood obesity. Today there are more obese citizens in India than in the US, 32% of them juveniles—walking candidates for heart failure, diabetes, and premature orthopedic problems in the years to come. Similarly, a report just released by the Thailand Ministry of Public Health attributes 20,000 deaths in Thailand as a direct result of obesity. These statistics were unthinkable just ten years ago.
We’re coming to see that wellness isn’t simply a matter of individual prerogative. The effect of healthier populations in “well economies” is a reduction of the rising and unsustainable worldwide healthcare tab, eventually allowing industrial societies such as the US to spend more of our precious resources on education, social programs and infrastructure instead of managing the onerous consequences of preventable disease and poor lifestyle choices. For business stakeholders in the spa, hospitality and tourism business, these shifts spell new opportunity.
I will be attending the Global Wellness Tourism Congress in Delhi this October, where these issues will be addressed in depth by wellness thought leaders worldwide. Hope to see you there.
Originally posted on the Global Spa and Wellness Summit's blog, The Weekender
Read other articles about:Thailand, United States, Wellness, Healthcare Costs, India, Statistics & Facts
Last updated on 19 August 2013
JosefWoodman Central and S. Florida emerging domestic and int'l #medicaltourism destinations t.co/rhfSrAiHLl @jhsmiami @UFHealth @orlandosentinel
JosefWoodman Thanks PBS and @WOSUAllSides for asking the tough #medicaltourism questions many of its promoters fail to address t.co/5aY2MIUQbh
JosefWoodman Looking forward to tomorrow's exchange @CohenProf Ya'll tune in! t.co/j3huRVWo9g #medicaltourism #globalhalth