Chicago 2014 and the Planetree Conference Report

Chicago--the old amidst the new
Chicago–the old amidst the new
View at sunset from our Marriott Hotel Room


Planetree: Patient-focused Care

As I write this blog, the news is full of alarming reports about Ebola, a disease without a medical cure, spreading internationally. Two (2!) American nurses contracted the disease while caring for an African patient. At the same time, I’ve seen several cartoons of overweight men sitting in a bar, drinking, smoking, and eating McDonald’s fast food while expressing their fear of Ebola.

Despite their having cut funding for the Center for Disease Control, Republicans try to blame Obama. Meanwhile, they continue to block Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General (the nation’s chief medical officer), because this nominee had the courage to suggest that the thirty-to-forty thousand(!) annual American gun deaths should be studied as a health hazard. The state of American politics in relation to our fragmented, over-priced, and un-accessible healthcare system is enough to make one want to scream and run out of the room.

Thus, it was incredibly gratifying to attend the annual Planetree Conference in Chicago. Planetree, founded in 1978, is an organization whose mission is to promote patient-centered care. In its several decades of activism, it has enrolled several hundred hospitals (including some in eight foreign countries) to implement such common-sense innovations as allowing patients to have choose their own gowns, have access to their own foods, choose their artwork or photos for their rooms, have open visitation, while training caregivers to be more sensitive to individual patient’s circumstances and needs. This is an incomplete description. Read more at

As Susan and I have developed our company, Healing HealthCare Systems, we have had the privilege of working with the most humane and progressive caregivers in the healthcare industry. Planetree attracts the same outstanding type of healthcare professionals. It was gratifying to meet many Planetree hospital representatives who are also C.A.R.E. Channel clients. The missions of Planetree and HHS are in perfect alignment with each other. Susan presented a conference session, “Curing the Noise Epidemic: How Loud is Your Culture?” Patients, including Susan, would describe the sound environment of hospitals as uncontrollable and most annoying. Masking erratic noise is one of the many ways the C.A.R.E. Channel has been a positive addition to the patient environment.

The best cheese store this side of Europe

Big Data and Selling Good Health

Keynote speaker Alexandra Drane (hear her TED talk: discussed the role of “big data” in healthcare. How do we “sell” good healthcare in the US? We live in a highly competitive capitalistic system. Every business attempts to sell itself, its products, or its services, while collecting lots of personal data to aid their sales efforts. An amazing statistic: The combined money spent nationally on all types of advertising is approximately $540.00 per person annually. The money spent to promote healthcare is only $0.33 per person annually.

What does mainstream advertising sell? Good times, good looks, coolness, & sex. What does healthcare sell? Unpleasant tests, bad-tasting diets, denial, nothing “cool.” Is it any wonder that after a hard day’s work, the exhausted worker is more likely to reach for a beer, a smoke, and something deep-fried, as opposed to fruits, vegetables, and a healthy drink? One of the cardinal rules of advertising is: Sell something that people want to buy.

The reality is, as evidenced by rising diabetes, obesity, and pharmaceutical drug overuse, that we are failing at selling good health!

The challenge issued by Ms. Drane was for Planetree and like-minded healthcare leaders to initiate a grassroots effort, similar to the successful public anti-tobacco campaign, to raise public consciousness about adopting the simple lifestyle measures that result in better health. One question is, how can data be used to incentivize better health? Extensive data exists that definitively points the way to how to improve health. But that negative data, on its own, is not motivating.

Health education should begin in early grade school. It is well known that adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, divorce, drugs, etc., influence the child’s later life, often leading to chronic health problems, drug abuse, violence, and failed relationships. This is the vicious cycle of poverty and bad health that persists in America’s lower classes. This reality leads to the inescapable conclusion that public health in America will be difficult to improve without simultaneously addressing social and economic issues of poverty and access to healthy foods. Healthcare has to address the priority problems confronting the individual: financial problems, family and relationship problems. Pursuing good health is often not a priority for many until they are symptomatic, which may be too late to reverse the course of illness.

The Rainforest Cafe–a unique building

Technology, Beliefs, & Adaptation

Keynote speaker Rebecca Costa, (, an “evolutionary biologist” addressed the ever-expanding role of new technology in the delivery of healthcare. She began by quoting Google’s Eric Schmidt who in 2010 stated that: “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” From the evolutionary perspective, our brains have not kept up. Our last major evolutionary advance was when homo sapiens transitioned to bipedal locomotion, i.e. walking upright (according to evolutionary biologists) approximately four-five million years ago. It’s no wonder that humans are suffering from information overload.

Complexity beyond the brain’s ability to understand it results in mental gridlock, an inability to make reasoned decisions, confusion and frustration. Overwhelm by too much data leads to a mental retreat to simpler systems, belief-based (often religion-based beliefs). Beliefs are unproven opinions, often embraced in denial of conflicting evidence. When beliefs dominate, decisions are made on unproven policies. Policies become irrational.   Confusion and conflicts increase between beliefs and knowledge. I will leave it to my readers to connect the previous narrative with current events.

The highest manifestation of our genetic inheritance is the human ability to preview future consequences, and then act in the present to shape future outcomes.  This ability is often called Insight, and is perhaps evolution’s greatest gift. Insight occurs when the right and left brains work together, bringing organization to chaos, processing and managing growing complexity.

The requirement for survival prior to the modern age was the capability to adapt. The dinosaurs went extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the climate change caused by a large meteor that collided with the earth around sixty-five million years ago.

In the modern age, humans have constructed artificial environments, enabling humans to live in otherwise inhospitable climates and landscapes. Humans have reproduced like an infectious virus, over-populating much of the planet, crowding out other species, leading to mass extinctions of animals and plants.

Scientists predict that by the end of the 21st century, half of all current wild animal species could be forced by humans into extinction. Scientists also predict drastic climate change based on the greenhouse effect of carbon emissions from human dependence on fossil fuels. Many people’s beliefs cause them to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change.

It will be a bitter irony if it turns out, that in spite of scientific warnings, that the human race is unable to adapt its technologies to cope with the looming climate disaster and its accompanying food and water shortages, which will result in the otherwise avoidable loss of many lives.

Trump Tower–Monument to a super ego
Remnant of a bygone era


Hi, I'm Dallas Smith

My blogs offer the vicarious pleasure for my readers to learn of my travels and musical adventures.

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