The Guggenheim Fellow‘s latest book, “Slow Medicine,” illustrates how the system can be improved with a more thoughtful approach to treatment — one of attention, kindness and “above all, responsibility.”
By Jack Pointer January 4, 2018 11:39 pm
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THE WAY TO HEALING
A radical new understanding of how medicine is best practiced, from the award-winning author of God’s Hotel.
Over the years that Victoria Sweet has been a physician, “healthcare” has replaced medicine, “providers” look at their laptops more than at their patients, and costs keep soaring, all in the ruthless pursuit of efficiency.
Dr. Sweet is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a prize-winning historian with a Ph.D. in history. She practiced medicine for over twenty years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, where she began writing.
In God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (Riverhead, 2012), she laid out her evidence—in stories of her patients and her hospital—for some radically new ideas about medicine and healthcare in this country. Now, in Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing, she expands and builds on those ideas and stories. In our attempts to get control of healthcare costs by privileging “efficiency,” she suggests, we’ve been headed down the wrong path. Medicine works best—that is, arrives at the right diagnosis and the right treatment for the least amount of money—when it is personal and face-to-face; when the doctor has enough time to do a good job, and pays attention not only to the patient but to what’s around the patient. Dr. Sweet calls this approach Slow Medicine, and she believes that, put into wider practice, it would be not only more satisfying and beneficial for patient and doctor, but also less expensive for everyone.
The New York Times has called her ideas “hard-core subversion”; Vanity Fair has judged God’s Hotel to be a “radical and compassionate alternative to modern healthcare,” and Health Affairs has described Dr. Sweet as a “visionary” and “subversive in all the best ways.” She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2014) for Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing.
More on Dr. Sweet, especially for Book Groups
It seems that people want to know more about Dr. Sweet than she’d imagined, especially book groups. They want to know more about her family, her upbringing, and what made her go into history. She’s delighted to discover that her traces have been so well-covered, and she’s also delighted to add the following:
“In terms of my background. The main thing for me is that I’m a fourth generation Californian, and almost a fourth generation San Franciscan. My family came to California for the Gold Rush. Some of them went by ship and had to portage across the Isthmus of Panama; others went by covered wagon. So I grew up with many stories about San Francisco. I heard about Emperor Norton, about the 1906 Earthquake, about the failure to get a freeway through the heart of the city, and I grew up with a lot of feeling for the city of Saint Francis. That’s in part why I responded so thoroughly to Laguna Honda.
“I went to Stanford and majored in mathematics, minored in classics. I was always split between science and the humanities. Then I started a PhD program at Harvard in psychology, but realized that medicine would work better for me than basic research. Because to be a good doctor you have to be a scientific humanist and a humanistic scientist.
“As I grew up in medicine, I found myself changed by my patients and I started writing and thinking about everything that came up, early on. The concept of a medicine as a calling and a vocation; the archetype of a physician; the linguistic connection between wholeness, healing and salvation; the split between curing and caring. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and dive into history. It’s a mixed metaphor but true. Especially after I discovered Hildegard and her medicine. Sloe Medicine contains the stories that all this led to.”
Dr. Sweet speaks frequently to medical professionals and the public about Slow Medicine and related topics.
Her published work also includes a book on the twelfth century mystic and medical practitioner, Hildegard of Bingen: Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen and Premodern Medicine (Routledge, 2006), and her essay, “Hildegard of Bingen and the Greening of Medieval Medicine,”(Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1999).