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Promoting holistic medicine

A team arrives next month here to show medical practitioners the value of holistic medicine and alternative treatment plans

Lt. Col. Robert C. Oh, physician lead for “Move to Health,” facilitates a final session of the class on Fort Meade, Maryland, May 1, 2015. Photo credit: Gary Sheftick

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Tai Chi, breathing techniques and mindful eating are among exercises that medical professionals will take part in during a 2.5-day class scheduled for Army clinics across the country.

A team, from Army Medical Command, is going on the road to show doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners the value of holistic medicine and alternative treatment plans.

Dubbed "Move to Health," the pilot program began last month on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, and recently moved up to Fort Meade, Maryland. Next week it is scheduled for Fort Bliss, Texas. The first week of June, the program will be taught at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Then it is on to Fort Hood, Texas, and over to Hawaii.

Classes ideally include entire care teams from military health clinics, said Lt. Col. Robert C. Oh, the physician lead for the class and also the physician lead for MEDCOM's System for Health and Performance Triad.

Empathy with patients is one of the themes he stresses. He wants doctors to take the time to hear the patients' stories and to get soldiers involved in drafting their own treatment plans that will set them on a path to wellness.

"Let's change the conversation," Dr. Oh said. "Instead of finding and fixing disease ... let's prevent disease. It's a subtle change, but a seismic one."


When a patient comes into a military clinic with back pain, Oh said perhaps the treatment team should not just focus on the back, but the whole body instead.

Chronic back pain can come from many sources, and many conventional treatments do not pan out so well in the long term, he said. Opioids only bring temporary relief. Epidural steroid injections, back fusion and other surgeries do not always work, he said. Statistically, he said, better long-term results often can be achieved with movement that strengthens the body's core.

This is grounded in science, he said. "You can move more mindfully and improve your health."

Mindfulness can also bring relief to pain in the short term, he said. Patients who expect pain will usually feel it. On the flipside, those who expect pain to subside will often report reduced levels of suffering, he said.


Just before lunch, Lt. Col. Tamara Funari, a nurse, demonstrated mindful eating.

This means not only being mindful of what is eaten, but how it is eaten, she said.

"It's about slowing down and enjoying the flavor," Funari said. It is about using all of the senses, she explained.

Mindful eating is about becoming aware, deliberately paying attention without judgment and being thankful for the moment and the food, she said.

Funari also discussed how to survive mindless eating. Studies have shown that subjects with smaller bags of chips - even though they have multiple bags - will eat fewer chips than those who have one large bag.

Surviving mindless eating is about creating a safe environment at home or work so one is more likely to choose wisely, Funari said. It is about making the unhealthy choices more difficult. This will help during stressful times, such as long work days, when exhaustion tempts judgment.


Obesity is not just a health problem, it is a national security issue, said Col. Deydre Teyhen, division chief for the System for Health and Performance Triad, G-3/5/7, Office of the Surgeon General. The rate of non-deployable soldiers makes it a readiness issue, she said.

Fewer than 40 percent of soldiers get good sleep, she said. Fewer than five percent eat enough fruit and vegetables.

"Health is the consequence of our daily choices," said Lt. Col. Rob Goodman, who taught at Fort Meade about the power of the mind and resilience.

"I really think that a big piece of this course is ... as providers, how do we communicate choice, how do we empower patients to make choices?" he asked.

Meagan Rikas, a medical support assistant for internal medicine at Fort Meade's Kimbrough Clinic, said the program was beneficial and inspirational.

"It changes your way of thinking," she said.

The "Move to Health" instructional team comes from the Health and Wellness Directorate, G-3/5/7, Office of the Surgeon General, in Falls Church, Virginia.

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