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Slow Medicine

By Dr. Teeb Al-Samarrai
. 2 Comment(s)

I’ve been attending a class called ‘Edible Education’ about our global food system and it’s had me thinking about how the Slow Food movement is relevant to our health care system and medicine.

It’s easy to ask, what does Slow Food have to do with medicine and health care?

I wasn’t really that familiar with Slow Food until recently but to dispel any myths, it’s not just an anti-fast food movement. Nor is it a vegetarian antidote to obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases (it’s not even vegetarian); it’s about changing how we eat, our relationship with food, our planet, and each other.

The Slow Food website describes the philosophy as:

Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.
We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.”

Central to the movement is that farming, preparing, cooking and eating food is a communal activity that connects us to the earth and to each other; it is what makes us human. Yet, somehow we have become more disconnected from this process of cultivation and in turn more disconnected from each other and within our communities. Our current ‘fast’ culture often makes relationships with each other secondary to the need for consumption.

It’s had me wondering, is it time for a Slow Medicine Movement? At what point did the patient-physician relationship become secondary? How would our relationships with patients and communities change? Could we imagine writing a Slow Medicine manifesto? Could it read something like this?

“Slow Medicine is good, prevents disease, is just and available to all. We believe that medicine should prevent and promote health, not harm people or physicians or society; and that physicians should receive fair compensation for their work. We consider ourselves co-protectors of health not consumers, because by being informed about the determinants of health (biological, genetic, social, structural, economic) and actively supporting those and the institutions that protect, we become a part of and a partner in the process of protecting our own health.”

To me, Slow Medicine would mean more time to spend with patients, getting to know them, their families and truly understanding their struggles. It is also time spent in the community, our community. Slow Medicine would mean creating a space to understand and remedy the determinants of my patients’ health; to not simply provide the convenient remedy but identifying what heals and strengthens individuals, communities, and myself.

What would Slow Medicine look like for you? How do we make it a reality?

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  1. Joel Weddington MD

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    Slow medicine means for me always, always taking 2 extra minutes for every visit to educate patients. Some don't need it - they are saavy. But most appreciate it, and it always surprises me how many wil say "gee thanks doc, no one ever took the time to explain that to me before!" It means seeing 4 pts an hour instead of 5 or 6 like many of my colleagues, and sometimes it means cutting them short and promising more time on the next visit. But seeing a patient have an "aha" experience is for me one of the greatest rewards of being a doctor.
  2. Jenne

    Permalink
    To make it a reality, there needs to be a website defining the movement. The first initiative of the movement needs to be a directory of doctors who self identify as practitioners of slow medicine. A nomination form would be next where patients can nominate their doctors who they feel practice slow medicine. The website then contacts them with an invitation to be listed. A flagship document defining the principles of slow medicine is also needed for consistency and to raise awareness (just don't let defining terms derail the movement). A find feature, a referral service, informational posts and articles, conferences all help to grow the movement.

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