In Knocking on Heaven's Door, Katy Butler describes a relatively new movement in modern healthcare termed "slow medicine," and advocates urgently for its principles to be applied in hospitals and specialists' offices across the United States. The slow medicine ethos mimics that of the slow food movement; taking time and applying restraint in care is favored over rushing into multiple and/or extreme medical measures. Slow medicine also favors a holistic, patient-centered approach versus the sometimes piecemeal, symptom-fixing focus of today's medical culture.
The principles of slow medicine are particularly applicable to geriatric care. Butler references Dennis McCullough's book, My Mother, Your Mother as an excellent source for those interested in improving the quality and compassion involved in end-of-life care. McCullough advocates taking the time to listen to patients, caregivers and families, and to consider quality as well as length of life. His book walks readers through eight stages of late life and death, giving examples of his own experience with his mother's passing as well as advice for addressing the process with a slow medicine approach.
Finding physicians who are willing to practice slow medicine is not only beneficial to the elderly or those in the final stages of fatal disease, however. Patients of all ages who need care due to confusing symptoms, chronic illness or psychological difficulties are good candidates for this type of care. Victoria Sweet, another successful author of narrative nonfiction, discovered the merits of slow medicine in her two decades working with many different kinds of patients at an almshouse in California. In a 2012 Wall Street Journal blog post, Sweet compares the role of a physician to that of a gardener: someone who nurtures and empowers. Her book well illustrates what doctor and writer Danielle Ofri distinguishes as the "practice of medicine" versus "the delivery of health care." Sweet, of course, acknowledges the need for fast medicine in acute situations, as would Katy Butler, who is careful in Knocking on Heaven's Door to apply these ancient, but counter-culture ideas to appropriate medical situations.
There are excellent and numerous caregiver resources provided by Katy Butler on her website.
First image: Rocking chair in Dennis McCollough's Dartmouth Medicine Magazine by artist Suzanne DeJohn
Second image: Slow Medicine logo for Italian Slow Medicine organization. The italian translates to sober, respect, right.
This article was originally published in October 2013, and has been updated for the
June 2014 paperback release.
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