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S E C T I O N 2 Community March 2, 2011 ■ Stories about people and events A LSO INSIDE C A LE N DA R 21 |R E A L E in the community. S TAT E 22 |C L AS S I F I E D S 29 Photos by Michelle Le/The Almanac CAN MEDICINE HEAL ITSELF? Dr. Walter Bortz offers plan to restore medicine’s mission By Renee Batti A Almanac News Editor fter a decades-long career in medicine, Dr. Walter Bortz knows a thing or two about diagnosing illnesses and writing prescriptions to help cure the sick. Although he’s no longer a practicing physician, Dr. Bortz recently wrote the most expansive prescription of his career — one he hopes will help cure a profoundly sick and stubborn patient: Medicine. “Next Medicine: The Science and Civics of Health” was published in January — the seventh book by the longtime Portola Valley resident and community health leader. In the book, Dr. Bortz details symptoms of what he calls the “giant anachronism” of medicine as practiced in the United States today. It’s a system burdened with skyrocketing medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance costs. “U.S. medical care expenditures are larger than the total GDP of most nations,” he writes, citing figures that show a spending increase from 11 percent of the country’s GDP in 1984 to 17 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, this costly system is serving a population increasingly unable to afford health insurance, and aff licted by soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable illnesses. A well-known geriatrics and fitness expert — at 81, he’s still running marathons — Dr. Bortz has written healthrelated books such as “Dare to Be 100” that have sold well. But, he says, writing the earlier books was “rehearsing” for “Next Medicine,” which he considers his most important. In it, he issues a troubling diagnosis for the profession that he has loved since childhood, when both father and uncle were respected physicians in their communities and his father was elected the youngest-ever president of the American Medical Association. The term “next medicine” describes a new model that will return medicine to the path of its original, nobler mission, he says. “Medicine’s current paradigm is not cost-effective, fair, safe, honest, efficient, or relevant,” he writes in “Next Medicine.” “It falls far short of fulfilling Medicine’s mission of asserting and assuring human potential.” Today’s medical system “has been corrupted by money,” Dr. Bortz says during a recent interview in his Westridge district home, where he writes every morning. “Doctors can only think in terms of ‘we want to repair you.’ “I recommend that the whole system become a ... pre-paid system rather than one that encourages doctors to say, ‘Please bleed so I can get paid more’ — Shown in the above photo in his Portola Valley home, Dr. Walter Bortz is a wellknown geriatrics expert and community health leader. In the photo on the cover, Dr. Bortz sorts through paperwork in his study, where he writes almost every day. which is just perverse.” His argument, however, does not pit capitalism against that oft-cited boogey man, “socialized medicine.” In “Next Medicine,” he writes: “We need not deny capitalism’s practical benefits; all we have to do is change the product it sells from disease to health. Why not?” That question logically leads to another: How? Dr. Bortz’s new model for medicine is built upon three key elements: a reassessment by the medical profession of its mission, including a shift in emphasis from curing disease to preventing it; personal responsibility for one’s health; and “a larger embrace of the community, of collective responsibility.” Personal responsibility would include more healthful lifestyle choices, especialSee BORTZ, page 19 March 2, 2011 N The Almanac N17

The Almanac 03.02.2011 - Section 2

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