Slow medicine and how it can improve your level of healthcare

I’ve recently read something that really struck a chord with me…

Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing was written by Dr. Victoria Sweet and chronicles her medical training in San Francisco at around the same time I entered medical school in Toronto.

Her experiences learning to become a doctor were very similar to mine. An extended apprenticeship focused on careful histories and listening to patients’ stories. Meticulous physical exams. Paper charts full of handwritten notes. The pride in figuring out a diagnosis. The shame of missing something obvious. The humanness of it all.

It’s what Sweet calls slow medicine. And it’s a way to heal the body that many physicians have forgotten…

Fast medicine versus slow medicine  

Today we practice fast medicine. Electronic health records. Drop-down phrases. Click and paste visits. Numeric diagnosis codes. Computer-aided decision making. Even as I’m writing this, the words sound impersonal and cold.

Don’t get me wrong. A computer reminding doctors that when they put someone on a drug like amiodarone that they should monitor thyroid function — or that the patient is due for a screening colonoscopy or tetanus shot — is a good thing and helps ensure more consistent, high-quality care while helping prevent mistakes.

But the stories are gone. It’s like the soul of the patient has disappeared. Entire medical records can be composed of pre-populated phrases endlessly copied from visit to visit. We are now just bits of standardized data. Even though the exact same data manifests uniquely in different patients.

The other casualty of fast medicine is the forgotten concept that given time if we just remove the obstacles, the body can heal itself. Fast medicine sees high cholesterol and prescribes a pill. Slow medicine tries to uncover why cholesterol is high in the first place and then removes the cause. In most instances, both approaches yield lower cholesterol numbers. But, ultimately, Slow Medicine tends to be more satisfying for both patient and practitioner — because it’s more holistic and comprehensive and tends to be accompanied by various other benefits.

Related: Say hello to the holistic health cure for just about everything

Slow and fast medicine are not necessarily at odds with one another. They are complementary. And we often need both to optimally manage a patient. But somewhere along the way, we yielded to fast medicine’s approach so much that the slow got lost entirely.

Getting back to slowing down  

Fortunately, the pendulum is starting to swing back and I’m proud to say that Step One Foods is one example of that.

Changing what you eat is a slow medicine approach. But the effects are not necessarily slow to materialize. To see a significant reduction in cholesterol from dietary change, all you need is 4 weeks. To see a significant change in blood sugar control, you need 3 months. To see a sustained change in weight, you might need half a year. But what’s really amazing is that all of those positive health changes are the result of the exact same intervention.

There is no fast medicine solution that can accomplish all of that all at once.

Pills, though effective and often necessary, are not the only approach to the treatment of a chronic health condition. Which is why I always encourage patients to be better advocates for themselves. If you have a chronic health issue, next time you’re in to see your provider ask what YOU can do to better manage your condition. And especially what you can do from a dietary perspective to help your other treatments work better — or reduce the need for them in the first place.

Because, given time, if we just remove the obstacles, the body can heal itself.


Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

By Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

"Diet is a major driver of high cholesterol, but instead of changing the food, we prescribe medications. This never seemed logical to me.” Dr. Klodas has dedicated her career to preventive cardiology. Trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, she is the founder and Chief Medical Officer for Step One Foods. Dr. Klodas is a nationally sought out speaker and has an active role at the American College of Cardiology. Her clinical interests include prevention of heart disease and non-invasive cardiac imaging and she has published dozens of scientific articles throughout her career. Dr. Klodas has been featured on CNN Health for her mission to change how heart disease is treated. An independent study performed at leading medical institutions affirmed the ability of Step One Foods to deliver measurable and meaningful cholesterol-reduction benefits in the real world. The results of the trial were presented at the 2018 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions. Dr. Klodas has also authored a book for patients, "Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Defeating Heart Disease," and served as founding Editor-in-Chief of the patient education effort of the American College of Cardiology. In addition to her practice and her duties at Step One Foods, she also serves as medical editor for webMD.