January 13, 2017/Features & Updates

Vaccines, Wellness and a Healthier America

Toby Cosgrove, M.D., affirms Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to vaccinations and the need for wellness-based approaches to chronic disease

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Toby Cosgrove, President and CEO, Cleveland Clinic

During my nearly 30 years as a cardiothoracic surgeon, it became clear that many of my 22,000 surgeries could have been avoided, or at least delayed, if my patients had simply made better choices.

Smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise were the leading factors that placed patients under my scalpel.

That’s why we established the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute in 2007 and placed its leader in the C-suite with the title of Chief Wellness Officer. From its inception, the goal of the Wellness Institute is to focus on “health care,” not just “sick care.”

Historically, healthcare has not done a good job of promoting disease prevention. Our Wellness Institute has built a framework to guide patients to healthier lifestyle choices. However, in a recent online column, the Wellness Institute’s medical director shared his personal views about vaccination – views that do not represent Cleveland Clinic in any way.

Vaccinations are a key component to preventing disease and maintaining a healthy society. There is no debating that; the research is clear. To say otherwise is irresponsible and runs counter to Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to evidence-based medicine.

Deadly, debilitating diseases like polio, smallpox and measles are no longer the threats they once were, thanks to vaccines. In fact, according to Healthy People 2020, routine childhood immunization (DTap, Td, Hib, Polio, MMR, Hep B, and varicella vaccines) saves 33,000 lives, prevents 14 million cases of disease, and reduces direct health care costs by $9.9 billion.

Harmful myths, untruths and junk science about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked. Serious adverse effects are incredibly rare. And there is no demonstrated link between autism and vaccination.

Still, critics have used the column to disparage the Wellness Institute as a whole and the concept of wellness in general.

Wellness programs can take many forms. At Cleveland Clinic we combine firsthand medical care and quality wellness programs to change unhealthy behavior and encourage healthy choices.

The old way of combatting chronic disease hasn’t worked. The cost of caring for patients with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, stroke and cancer threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system and our national economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that chronic disease accounts for more than 75 percent of our total healthcare costs, which are expected to reach 20 percent of our gross domestic product by 2024.

Committing one-fifth of the economy to healthcare costs is clearly unsustainable. A new approach that focuses on healthy diet, exercise and disease prevention is vital.

At Cleveland Clinic, the Wellness Institute works hand-in-hand with the Medicine Institute to help patients and employees change unhealthy behaviors and to make healthy life choices. These goals align with public health initiatives set by the CDC, such as immunizations, safe healthy food, smoking cessation, control of infectious disease, and a focus on heart disease and stroke.

Some approaches may be considered unconventional, but most – acupuncture, yoga, Chinese herbal medicine, guided imagery and relaxation techniques – have scientific backing. We have heard from our patients that they want more than conventional medicine can offer and we believe it is best that they undertake these alternative therapies under the guidance of their Cleveland Clinic physician.

It’s important to understand that wellness interventions and alternative therapies never replace evidence-based medicine. They are only used to complement their medical care and only with the knowledge and guidance of the patient’s primary care physician.

In the meantime, we will move the science forward. Our Center for Functional Medicine is the first in the country to conduct research studies on the impact of functional medicine when combined with traditional approaches for certain disease – asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.

Cleveland Clinic is the first major academic medical center to embrace many of these alternative strategies. We believe that doing so is justified by the magnitude of the disease challenge. By making healthier choices, people can avoid medications and procedures. And that truly is the best medicine.

– Toby Cosgrove, MD, President and CEO, Cleveland Clinic

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. Cleveland Clinic is consistently recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for its expertise and care. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 81,000 employees worldwide are more than 5,743 salaried physicians and researchers, and 20,160 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,690-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 23 hospitals, 276 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2023, there were 13.7 million outpatient encounters, 323,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 301,000 surgeries and procedures throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 132 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/CleClinicNews. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

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