Just last week, I attended the New York Spa Alliance (NYSPA) annual symposium (see SpaTrade blog here) and was able to hear from Mark Liponis, the corporate medical director for Canyon Ranch, who spoke on “Why Wellness Pays.” Liponis has a unique perspective as a physician who has been integrating medical services into the spa offerings at Canyon Ranch for over 15 years. The iconic destination spa there has grown to an astonishing 15 physicians on staff including former Surgeon General, Richard Carmona. Those doctors work very closely with other wellness professionals more commonly found in spas (nutrionists, personal trainers, bodyworkers, etc.)
From his experience working with Canyon Ranch, Dr. Liponis shared with us four ways that spas can contribute to the health and well being of their clients:
1. Spas serve as an antidote for life. People need a respite, a break from the stress and pace of every day life. Spas provide a place for people to come and relax and slow down.
2. Spas are preventative. Most medical care is focused on illness and disease care. Spas can provide a more proactive approach to health with a focus on prevention.
3. Spas can advance health literacy. Spas typically educate people so they know where to focus their attention to achieve better health and wellbeing. Educational lectures and talks are an important part of the programming at Canyon Ranch.
4. Spas can act as a health concierge/integrative medicine center. Spas can be a wellness hub where people can go to be offered a wide variety of conventional and alternative treatment options depending on the needs of the guest.
This last one really resonated with me personally. I have a herniated disc in between the L5/S1 vertebrae that causes me a lot of pain and often interferes with my day-to-day enjoyment of life. If I go to my insurance company (Cigna), their computers will analyze my symptoms and spit out two possible treatment options: I can either go to a chiropractor or I can go to a surgeon. The problem with this is simple. If I go to a chiropractor they will tell me to do a regimen of chiropractic treatments and adjustments. If I go to a surgeon they will schedule me for a laminectomy where they will snip away at the bulging disc. But who can I go to that will tell me which one is the best? And how should I coordinate their offerings with other alternative courses of therapy such as massage, acupuncture, and yoga? These are questions I have to figure out for myself.
Canyon Ranch serves as a center for “integrative medicine” (which is not the same as “alternative” medicine.) Integrative medicine means that a variety of complementary care options is provided (including both conventional and alternative approaches.) This fits in well with the “spa” philosophy of mind-body-spirit wellness because it means care providers can combine different types of treatments to offer a more holistic approach.
According to Liponis, most doctors in the conventional health care system are overwhelmed. Most people couldn’t get an hour of their doctor’s time but in the spa environment they are able to provide whatever time the guest would like. The patient is usually in the medical system there because they have to be there, while the spa guest is there because they want to be there, and that’s a huge difference. This is the power of spa, creating healing experiences that people actually enjoy. It is funny how our other healing institutions fail to make people feel good while making them feel better.
In Liponis’ old practice as a primary care physician, he struggled to get his patients to do the bare minimum to take care of their health. He felt like he was “always on a treadmill that couldn’t keep up with the illness.” He had to prescribe more and more medications and yet his patients continued their downhill slide. Today, in the spa setting, he works on taking his patients off of their medications, and he sees the success of his efforts across the lifetime of his clients. Today, Dr. Liponis describes the level of care at Canyon Ranch as “the kind of care we would all want” with access to all of the modalities that could come to bear for a particular problem. “It is probably the premiere model of health.”
I’m a believer. There is only one thing that Dr. Liponis did not cover in his presentation . . . how do I convince Cigna to send me to Canyon Ranch for my back pain?
References and recommended reading:
Liponis, M. & Hyman, M. (2003). Ultraprevention: The 6-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy for Life. New York: Scribner.
Liponis, M. (2008). UltraLongevity: The Seven-Step Program for a Younger, Healthier You. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Sherman, L. (2001). The Canyon Ranch Guide to Living Younger Longer: A Complete Program for Optimal Health for Body, Mind, and Spirit. New York: Free Press.