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Until recently, Israelis went to their health clinics when they felt unwell, and their health funds covered the costs. Today, more keenly aware that a high quality of life is as important as being free of disease, people are thinking about seeking help from doctors and other medical professionals whose services are not covered by the health funds' basket of services.
Getting fit, reducing stress, controlling weight, removing tattoos, wrinkles or superfluous hair, stopping snoring, quitting smoking and improving one's sex life are new targets for many - but they are confused by the plethora of inadequately trained "specialists," self-proclaimed complementary medicine practitioners or downright charlatans offering these services in private clinics. Since the Health Ministry doesn't have the means to supervise these services and some of the professions aren't even licensed, how can a patient find an authentic expert?
Many of the health funds, and even hospitals, have in the past few years begun to offer their own services, for which patients must pay. But some would-be customers wonder whether even those recommended by their health insurer are qualified, or they are deterred by having to go to a hospital for consultations and treatment.
THE HADASSAH Medical Organization (HMO), whose two world-class Hadassah University Medical Centers in Jerusalem are not owned or subsidized by the government, decided to augment its income by establishing a special center offering services provided by physicians and other professionals bearing impressive credentials.
Called Hadassah Optimal (its Hebrew name can be translated "The Center for Quality of Life and Esthetics), the facility opened less than six months ago in the capital's Malha Technology Park. Today, it fills an entire 400-square-meter floor in Building 8 of the park, but it will soon move to facilities with three times the space in the massive tower nearby. With manicured lawns, a sparkling fountain and plenty of flowering bushes, it looks more like a hotel complex than a technology park.
The idea was first raised by HMO marketing head Amitai Rotem. Hadassah hesitated before going into such a commercial venture. Although its senior physicians are allowed to work as consultants to paying patients under the Sharap (private medical care) arrangement, the new services and framework were quite different than offering treatment in Hadassah's outpatient and inpatient facilities.
HMO set up Hadassah Optimal with Roni Kaufman, owner of the Optics Doron optometry chain, who had suggested five years ago that Hadassah launch a partnership for performing laser surgery to replace eyeglasses. This was in fact done and proved a successful and popular service, gradually leading to the idea of a "quality of life" center.
"There are very few such centers in the world that provide integrative, multidisciplinary treatments," says Kaufman in his Hadassah Optimal office. "If somebody is obese, has high blood pressure and high cholesterol and has to learn how to change his lifestyle, our experienced clinical dietitians, sports medicine physicians and other experts help him in an interdisciplinary way. We even have special cooking classes in our customized kitchen that are taught by a physician, Dr. Rani Pollack, who is also a trained chef."
There are also plans to built a hydrotherapy pool under nearby Teddy Stadium.
HMO shared the rent and expenses, lent its senior staffers (who are paid according to its long-established Sharap formula) and helped furnish the center with modern furniture, mini-fountains bubbling out over pebbles, always-lit vanilla candles and other things that create an attractive ambience.
"We are still in the running-in stage, and many residents of Jerusalem don't know about us yet. But we raise ideas among us about new services that would be in demand, and we're gradually adding new units," Kaufman adds. "We are now receiving over 800 people a month, and field between 30 and 60 queries a day. We have also added a travel medicine clinic run by Prof. Shlomo Ma'ayan, well-known head of the Ein Kerem medical center's AIDS clinic; he gives advice to older travelers who plan to go to Nepal or South America and want to know if they are well enough for it," Kaufman says.
HADASSAH OPTIMAL doesn't perform plastic surgery or any invasive procedures here except for shrinking benignly enlarged prostate glands with radio waves, giving Botox injections to (temporarily) minimize facial wrinkles, giving laser treatment of the soft palate to treat snoring and injecting varicose veins in the legs to eliminate them.
"We offer only those services that are not included in the health basket."
In its flyers (available so far only in Hebrew), Hadassah Optimal explains itself: "You live only once, and you do all you can to live well, to succeed in studies, at work, in relationships. But the good life begins with you - in your health, self image and general feeling. All these we call quality of life. Hadassah Optimal is an advanced medical center established by Hadassah in the Malha Technology Park, where knowhow, technologies and the most advanced professional medical staff in the field of improving quality of life are concentrated. If you feel the need to improve your quality of life, there is no reason to wait... At every treatment, course, workshop or encounter you will meet Hadassah's experts... Its great advantage is in bringing together a variety of treatments and knowledge under one roof that makes possible broad and comprehensive care in many fields... We deal with ways of life, not only symptoms, to achieve a real improvement in your quality of life."
"Optimal is not a gimmick. We don't know of any other place like this in Israel. It's meant to deal with real problems that bother people, from obesity and snoring to family fitness, sexual malfunctioning and attention-deficit disorder in adults," says Dorit Adler, Hadassah University Medical Center's chief clinical dietitian who sees patients also at Hadassah Optimal.
"We have whole families come in with obese children who have to learn new habits, such as sitting down together for an ordered family meal and reducing stress. Schools invite us to come and speak on these matters all the time." Diabetics, for example, will get not only lifestyle-changing workshops but also be able to watch films, get a free pedometer to encourage walking and a daily food consumption diary.
Having already run successful lifestyle-changing programs for Hadassah personnel - getting them physically active and changing menus in the hospital cafeterias - Hadassah dietitians and fitness experts are ready to train staffers at large companies.
"We are also trying to educate and influence organizations that feed many thousands of people, such as airlines and other corporations, to supply more healthful foods."
"Israelis are still not used to paying for these health services, but we are sure that we fill an important need," says Hadassah Optimal sports medicine director Dr. Naama Constantini, one of the founders of Israeli sports medicine, a family physician, chairman of the Israel Olympics Committee's Medical Commission and former head of sports medicine at the Wingate Institute of Physical Education. The sports medicine unit in Malha recently earned publicity when the owner of the Betar Jerusalem team, Arkady Gaydamak, signed a deal with Hadassah Optimal to test and monitor the health of the players, including youth members.
Next to Constantini's office is a workout room with advanced fitness and monitoring equipment to measure metabolism and other important parameters.
The sports unit team includes orthopedists, physiotherapists and dietitians who work with healthy people who want to increase their fitness, sportsmen who have to be checked to detect hidden conditions that could be dangerous with exertion, heart patients, diabetics and osteoporosis patients.
Kaufman notes that many customers for tattoo removal are penitent Jews who now feel uncomfortable with (halachically forbidden) permanent markings on their skin. A Palomar YAG laser is used by a Hadassah plastic surgeon for removing tattoos as well as unsightly natural pigmentation. Sexual therapists, all certified, are also on hand, and Kaufman says the Orthodox-sponsored Puah Institute that counsels religious Jews about fertility problems refers patients to them.
Hadassah Optimal does not eschew complementary medicine, especially for relaxation and pain relief, but will not use anything that has not been proven to be beneficial, says Kaufman. Among them are shiatsu, acupuncture, medical massage, osteopathy and hypnosis for smoking cessation.
As for payments, Kaufman notes that the four public health funds' supplementary insurance plans cover some of the charges, but patients pay out of pocket when they have no such coverage. A cooking course of six three-hour sessions costs NIS 1,300, a 10-session diet workshop costs NIS 1,350, and laser treatment for snoring is NIS 6,500.
Hadassah Optimal can be reached by calling 1-800-399-388, or via its Web site at www.hadassahop.org.il.