Each day of Donna Karan's 10-day Well-Being Forum, certain questions and concerns circulated and echoed -- both publicly during the panel discussions featuring dedicated practitioners and thought leaders and privately in smaller gatherings over the delicious raw food lunch participants were served.
There was an urgency, as if in these dialogues, people could encompass all that health care means, from the personal to the global.
"This forum is treating the current medical situation as the disaster that it deserves to be treated as," affirms Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University. "We admire doctors because they deal with sick people -- it's very heroic. Doctors are like the fire department -- they run to the site of the emergency. But the question is: what can be done to prevent emergencies? The majority of diseases aren't accidents."
"We doctors act like gods," offers Dr. Mosaraf Ali, who founded the Integrative Medicine Centre in London. "But it's up to you to do the right things, like eating healthy food, doing yoga, and being mindful, because unless you do, I promise you one thing: we doctors will mess around with your lives."
"Our health care system doesn't offer guidance and prevention," says Dr. Christiane Northrup, an expert on women's health and bestselling author. "My family and I consume no health care. Given the right conditions and behavior, there's no need to end up in MD's office."
"You eat, drink, and do whatever you like, then when you fall ill, you blame it on the doctor," says Ali. "But 80 percent of illnesses are cured by patients themselves by accessing the natural healing power that we all have."
"It's great if you know enough to eat healthy food," Thurman agrees. "But what kind of food can you get? Where is food grown as it was in the past without chemicals and genetic manipulation? When the air, water, and food are laden with chemicals, it's like a mass health experiment and doctors are placed in position of trying to solve everything. But these are massive global problems and they need to be addressed at that level."
"We have to talk about our priorities and economics," agrees Dr. Larry Norton, Deputy Physician-in-Chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "Americans spend two trillion dollars on health care. Eleven billion of that is spent on cancer, and we spend six times more on soft drinks."
"We need a consumer movement to make companies aware that we won't buy junk food or products with toxins," suggests Dr. Frank Lipman, who directs the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center
"I start by empowering people to understand what they are purchasing. Most of commercial television and all of the morning television shows are brought to us by the pharmaceutical industry. The medical journals which are supposed to guarantee the objectivity of evidence-based science, are themselves influenced by their advertisers," says Northrup.
"More people than ever before walk into my office and ask for something they've seen advertised on TV. But that's my cue to go to the source of the problem and offer them life changes that will really help. Plus it's vital to develop media literacy so that you don't take what you see at face value. People need to wake up to the fact that this is about money and advertising."
"The entire complex profits from people being sick and obese so that the economic incentives are flipped against us," reports Dr. Mark Hyman, the author of Ultrametabolism. "Given what we pay for health, we should be ranked first but we're ranked twelfth among 16 industrialized nations for key health indicators like life expectancy and infant mortality."
"There is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a system that makes a profit from suffering. There is a fundamental disconnect," urges Dr. Robert Schiller, Chairman of the Beth Israel Department of Family Medicine. "We have to have a dialogue about core issues. We have to get people who are responsible to the table and say enough is enough."
"Let's first of all admit that we are the people that have brought the planet to the verge of extinction by being obsessed with money and turning medicine into a commercial venture," suggests Thurman. "Instead of more high tech machines and more high tech drugs, and more high tech failed government agencies, we need the need the help of cultures who never lost their connection to the natural life processes."
"First you need a change in consciousness, and then the funding to make a shift happen," proposes Dr. Woodson Merrell, Director of Integrative Medicine at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center. "Let's pay for services that are going to save us money long term. There's a lot of evidence but we have to bite the bullet to make a commitment to introduce them."
"We need to gather the forces together, but who is going to do that?" wonders Rodney Yee, a renowned yoga teacher and student of Eastern traditions.
"So many times people leave conferences like these stimulated and it becomes overwhelming," points out life coach and bestselling author Tony Robbins. "Focus on what you are passionate about and take action. Ask: Where I can I have the most impact? All of this discussion will amount to nothing unless we all take some form of action."