health

Aetna, a Congressman, and mindfulness? Wisdom 2.0 Recap

I spent a fantastic week in the San Francisco area in February to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference, a gathering of 3,000 people enthusiastic about mindfulness, meditation, inner wisdom, business and tech. 

I'll be sharing a series of posts from that trip alone, which was infused daily with so much serendipity that I came back with even greater confidence that my work with purpose and inner empowerment is much-needed and necessary for the modern soul. 

Among the many highlights was a panel on Mindfulness & Medicine: The Future of Healthcare with Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, Tim Ryan, Congressperson of Ohio (D), and Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of evidence-based mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR). 

(L to R): Congressman Tim Ryan, CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR - mindfulness-based stress reduction.

As someone who worked in the healthcare technology field for a few years, creating initiatives that link startups with hospitals seeking to pilot technologies with patients, I kept coming back to the fact that tech can be nice, but sometimes we were never really treating the root of the underlying problem.

And, as a patient of this medical system myself who believes that my inability to counter stress for years plus diet/nutrition issues from social pressures led in part to full-blown medical issues, I was literally sitting at the edge of my seat with this star panel, hanging onto every word. 

They talked about: 

  • how an Uber-for-nurses could revolutionalize how we receive preventative care and promote community economic development (entrepreneurs - JUMP on this idea!)
     
  • how government needs to align their spending to things that actually work to promote health, creating better living and working conditions and healthy environments
     
  • how Bertolini used mindfulness and yoga to ease his constant pain after a horrific, near-fatal ski accident
     
  • how Aetna has a Chief Mindfulness Officer(!), and gave its employees FREE meditation, mindfulness and yoga, and even did a study showing the decrease in healthcare costs, decrease in stress (cortisol levels) and increase in productivity. 
     
  • how schools across the country are seeing the incredible effects of mindfulness on lowering student suspension rates and cortisol (stress) levels, while increasing focus

The private Q&A afterwards was even better -- clinicians, dentists, patients, teachers, and parents all talked about how stress relates to mental health, physical health, and how more can be done to advance how institutions are providing health-care as opposed to disease-care. 

This, of course, needs cooperation with federal and state governments in relation to billing and reimbursements and what types of providers and practitioners are allowed to offer service.

In addition, we need new public or private sources to fund rigorous clinical studies. Aetna published the results of their own study in the Journal of Occupational Health and is investing its own funds via the Aetna Foundation on related research and programs. (See a New York Times article here and a PBS segment interviewing Bertolini for more resources). 

I came away, first of all, excited that these leaders are being the pioneers to integrate inner empowerment with everyday life in the corporate world. We all know that people need to lower stress and it takes time and guts for people to stand up for something that works, that may not be "conventional." 

At the 2015 Integrative Health Conference, I remember that physicians talked about how effective and inexpensive alternative treatments are, including acupuncture, and how misunderstood they were for decades (and to some extent, still misunderstood). In fact, the Department of Defense had pioneered research and field studies in acupuncture and other forms of pain management years before it entered mainstream medicine. 

Secondly, I came away inspired that people in the audience are all interested in seeing more advancement of integrative therapies and alternative therapies in their lifetime.  The conference made it clear that just a few years ago, CEOs and leaders of our country used to be afraid to talk about mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, and now they are more likely to speak openly about it. Now it takes cooperation, cross-sector movement, and apparently organizing people to petition their congressperson to promote more opportunities in health and integrative medicine. 

My third, and greatest takeaway, is that the more we have actual dialogue about inner empowerment and its role in everyday life, and the more people can experience its effects in lowering stress, the better. 

Anyone interested in continuing the conversation in New York City? I'd love to start or be a part of these types of dialogues. Only with open conversation can we create anything truly inspired and game-changing.