Shaare Zedek director-general: Medical care must be more holistic

Dr. Jonathan Halevy: Growing numbers seek complementary medicine practitioners in addition to or even instead of conventional doctors.

doctor Halevy 224.88 (photo credit: )
doctor Halevy 224.88
(photo credit: )
Doctors and medical schools must "pull back the pendulum" from focusing on highly successful, hi-tech medical care for diseased body parts to more care for the physical and emotional whole person, said Prof. Jonathan Halevy, director-general of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Although some of his colleagues worry that the pendulum cannot be shifted away from technically adept but soulless care to holistic medicine, Halevy said he was optimistic that it could be done. Nearly 20 years in his current post and also director of a Shaare Zedek internal medicine department, Halevy was the keynote speaker at the eighth conference of Nefesh-Israel, a Network of Orthodox mental health professionals. A few hundred modern Orthodox and haredi psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and others are attending the two-day conference, organized by Dr. Judith Guedalia and social worker Leah Abramovitz, at Jerusalem's Bayit Vegan Guest House. The hospital director-general said that although patients now receive treatments and even cures that couldn't have been dreamed about when he studied medicine 35 years ago, a growing number of patients seek out complementary medicine practitioners in addition to – or even instead of – conventional doctors. There is such specialization and sub-specialization that many physicians are experts in a certain disease or small part of the body, he said. Although medical students are taught to conduct physical examinations on patients, many give only cursory ones, spending more time looking at computer screens instead of at the patient. They then send patients to computerized scanners and other machines that produce more exact results than they can reach themselves. As a result, the status of the doctor and the faith patients have in conventional medicine have dropped, he said. "It is paradoxical – mindboggling – that at a time when we doctors can diagnose and treat disease with unbelievable success, some patients would prefer to go to a reflexologist or homeopath," Halevy said. While most alternative therapies have no scientific basis and their efficacy has not been proven, continued the author of a Hebrew-language book assessing the efficacy of complementary medicine, some have a beneficial result, even it is a placebo effect. Some patients improve simply because of the personal attention they get from complementary medicine practitioners, and some benefit even beyond the placebo effect, Halevy added. "Complementary medicine does not claim to save lives, but to reduce suffering. There are some successes that we have to examine." At Shaare Zedek's complementary medicine unit, manned by specially trained physicians, Halevy saw homeopath sit and talk with patients for 60 or 90 minutes. "Medicine was always an art, not exact like mathematics, and one can see two patients with the same disease and the same genetic and environmental risks, but one will survive and the other won't." Ben-Gurion University pioneered personality tests for medical school applicants to detect their level of humanity, sensitivity and communicability – tests which have been copied by other schools. "We at Shaare Zedek and my predecessors have always put stress on communications with individual patients and understood the connection between body and emotions, and a doctor who can't communicate despite being a very good clinician will not get advancement," Halevy stressed.