Impact on quality of life is immeasurable.
Arkansas has some of the worst health outcomes in the U.S. with high rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and stroke. The U.S. overall doesn't fare well, with the country's life expectancy ranked 28th out of the 37 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries despite spending more on healthcare than any of the other countries.
But Arkansas is now the epicenter of a potentially transformative movement to address the underlying causes of poor health outcomes while also reducing healthcare costs. Northwest Arkansas is home to Whole Health Institute headed by Executive Director Tracy Gaudet, MD, a non-profit organization "with a vision to empower and equip people to take charge of their physical, mental, and spiritual health to live full and meaningful lives."
"We do this by educating communities and workplaces, convening and catalyzing thought leaders, and radically transforming health systems," Gaudet said. "The goal is to improve health outcomes and quality of life, reduce healthcare costs, and influence a change in how medical education is taught and healthcare is delivered. Whole Health Institute is working with health systems, employers, community partners and medical schools, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, to offer training and experiences in whole health principles. Currently, Whole Health Institute has several collaborations underway including the Supporting Lifelong Success Neurodiversity Initiative and exploring the integration of whole health into the Community Health Worker Program, among others."
Making whole health available to all people in all communities is ambitious and yet Gaudet sees real opportunity to be a catalyst for change with Arkansas at the epicenter. One strategy for broadening the reach is a train-the-trainer model, meaning they are providing courses for whole health advocates to become facilitators so they can then go out and educate others in whole health principles. And they are leaning into the existing whole health movement, working with regional partners, while participating in the national conversation around whole health.
"Whole Health Institute is excited to help lead the way in this area as part of a newly announced initiative, State Transformation Collaboratives," Gaudet said. "The Collaboratives was formed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and brings together organizations, including Whole Health Institute, to support locally-driven healthcare transformations that prioritize the needs of the communities. Arkansas is one of only four states chosen to pilot the program based on the significant opportunity to impact health equity and because of the momentum around alternative payment models."
The Whole Health movement focuses on driving transformation through living laboratories. This means piloting programs with aligned organizations starting with Northwest Arkansas; learning and measuring outcomes, and then scaling up. Gaudet said that through these programs, Whole Health is leveraging new technology and best practices, and providing educational experiences to care teams, employer groups, and communities toward the goal of improving health outcomes.
"We are working with employer groups to create well-being activations that integrate whole health practices into existing programs," Gaudet said. "And on the clinical side, we are partnering with health systems, like Arisa (Behavioral Health System), to advance patient engagement and self-care management as part of the provider training to integrate whole health into the mental health practices."
For both employee well-being and clinical training programs, they are continuing to evolve the models and evaluate the impacts with plans to extend pilots to additional businesses and health systems.
The website https://www.wholehealth.org/ offers resources for individuals to integrate a whole health approach. For a healthcare professional interested in exploring how whole health can transform their practice, there is the online course Clinical Series designed for healthcare providers and clinicians. The series begins with Whole Health Foundations, which first focuses on provider well-being. Then, the courses Practicing Whole Health I, II, and III develop skills that allow clinicians to move beyond the disease-centered care to an approach that equips patients to live full and meaningful lives. And the skills labs offer real hands-on learning models. There are up to 32 total hours of training, along with Continuing Education Credit available at no charge.
"We have additional free, expert-led and peer-to-peer courses available for individuals, clinicians, well-being professionals, and anyone interested in exploring a whole health approach no matter where they are on their journey," Gaudet said. "Introductory and training courses include Explore My Whole Health, Taking Charge, Ambassador, and Facilitator Training to meet people where they are on their well-being journey.
Ambassador and Facilitator Trainings provide skills to lead others in a whole health experience. For a complete list, visit the course page of the website.
Prior to coming to Whole Health Institute, Gaudet was the founding Executive Director of the Veterans Health Administration's Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, an office charged with leading a whole health movement which included reaching 350,000 staff and ultimately millions of veterans. The VA healthcare delivery was re-envisioned and produced outstanding results.
"For veterans, there was a three-fold reduction in opioid use, increased perception of care, engagement in their care and their self-care, engagement in life, and decreased stress," Gaudet said. "For staff, there was decreased burnout, increased motivation, and reduction in resignations for physicians, nurses, and other health services employees. The total spend for healthcare of the active cohort declined by 30 percent relative to the general VA population. The cost savings opportunity for whole health is immense, while the impact on quality of life is immeasurable. Now the opportunity is to take what was learned in that system, and evolve it and expand it across the private sector, as well."
Whole health is about rewiring how we think about health, well-being, and self-care by focusing on the whole person. Typically, healthcare providers start with the illness or condition. Gaudet said in doing that, we are missing out on the biggest motivational factors, the patient's goals and dreams.
"In our courses and training, we help individuals explore their own aspirations and purpose," she said. "We empower and equip people to take charge of their own well-being by addressing mind, body, and spirit, helping them identify their own areas of focus. We then support them in acquiring new skills and support for behavior change. One patient may want to simply keep up with their grandchild while another may need the tools to deal with a life-altering condition. We have to understand their barriers and goals to help them flourish in whatever phase of life they're in."
One of the biggest predictors of well-being is people's relationships, so Whole Health is helping providers think about what it means to have a care team, or a whole health community. Gaudet said as health providers, we can encourage patients to engage with well-being professionals, coaches, instructors, facilitators, and groups that are supporting their self-care journey and centering on what matters most to them.
"And, in so doing, patients are finding more relief and improvement in their chronic conditions such as pain and mental health, and needing to rely on their clinical teams less and less," Gaudet said. "We have free, expert-led and peer-to-peer courses available for individuals, clinicians, well-being professionals, and anyone interested in exploring a whole health approach no matter where they are on their journey. Whole Health Institute focuses on training that starts with defining purpose and creating self-care plans.
Whole Health Institute was founded by Alice Walton, who is also the major force for the establishment of the Whole Health School of Medicine and Health Sciences, a separate, four-year, medical degree (MD) granting school that works closely with Whole Health Institute. The School of Medicine will educate medical students through a whole health approach, which integrates conventional medicine with holistic principles and practices, taught by leading medical practitioners and scientific minds.
"The two organizations will work hand-in-hand as their visions align and are rooted in whole health principles, with the shared goals to improve health outcomes and quality of life, reduce healthcare costs, and influence how medical education is taught and healthcare is delivered," Gaudet said.
Gaudet moved to Northwest Arkansas about two years ago with her husband and son. "We love it! What I have been most impressed with is how genuine and kind the people are here," she said. "This kind of authenticity is really quite rare, and it makes both living here and doing this collaborative work, a true gift."
For more information, go to https://www.wholehealth.org/