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Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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How can measuring quality of life lead to better health?

CoupleOnBikesBy Jeffery Dusek, director of research, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

In medicine, we’re very focused on measurements – blood pressure, weight, cholesterol levels – values that are easily understood by the medical community. One thing that we have not focused on as much is how quality of life affects health.

A person’s quality of life is influenced by a variety of factors including their physical, mental, and social well-being. Numerous studies have shown that low quality of life is related to increased rates of illness, chronic disease and death.

In June 2012, a team at Allina Health began implementing a tool called the PROMIS-10 questionnaire developed by the National Institutes of Health to assess quality of life in Piper Breast Center patients. Since then, this initiative has expanded across other Allina Health patient groups – touching 1,500 patients.

Our goal is to engage patients and help them achieve their health objectives. Questionnaires like PROMIS-10 have been found to:

  • improve patient satisfaction and communication between patients and their health care providers
  • support efficient patient visits, guiding visits without lengthening overall visit time.

Allina Health is in good company as our colleagues at major health systems such as Partners HealthCare (Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and Cleveland Clinic are also using PROMIS-10 to measure patients’ quality of life.

Specifically within Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, clinicians use this questionnaire as part of every visit at the outpatient clinic. I asked Courntey Baechler, MD, at the Penny George Institute about using the tool with her patients. She said, “It really helps me understand how they gauge their own quality of life. It’s easy as a physician to quickly tie medical numbers to a patient and arbitrarily rate their quality of life. With the questionnaire, I can quickly see how the patient rates their own indicators of health. This is yet one more way to hear the patient’s voice.”

Other areas of Allina Health that are using the questionnaire include the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®, the cardiac rehabilitation program, Healthy Communities Partnership, and others.

Knowing that quality of life is important to health, you can take some simple steps to improve yours:

  • Take time to focus on what brings you joy.
  • Talk to your clinician about what’s most important in your quality of life. Perhaps being able to play with your kids or grandkids in the park is what brings you joy each week.
  • Ensure that during each visit with your clinician, there is time to concentrate on aspects of your health that are affecting your quality of life. An example would be poor sleep hindering your ability to be active.
  • Take time to speak to family or friends about what affects your quality of life. This could be physical and emotional pain, stress, being rushed, or having limited time to sit and connect with them.

Check out our previous blogs for information on how to improve stress management, sleep, nutrition, social connection, spiritual connection, and physical activity. All are key to improving quality of life.

Jeffrey Dusek, PhD, is the director of research for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. Prior to that he was with Harvard Medical System at Harvard Medical School as the director of Behavioral Sciences Research of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine of Massachusetts General Hospital.


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My path to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband, Daniel Wolpert.

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband.

By Debra Bell, MD

This fall marks the start of a new chapter for me in a more than 25-year journey as a family medicine and integrative medicine physician.

In September, I started offering integrative medicine consultations alongside two other physicians and a clinical nurse specialist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. I am part of a team of integrative health practitioners, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, integrative nutritionists, and a psychologist.

As a new team member, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and my style of practice. Doing that requires giving you some history on how I got here.

I consider my work in health care a calling. I was exposed at an early age to medicine and drawn to the notion of helping people. As a pre-med student, I became interested in women’s studies and birthing practices. I found inspiration from my mother’s first edition books from the 1950s and 1960s about natural childbirth and breastfeeding and went on to study natural remedies used by midwives and ancient healers.

In medical school, I took a year off to concentrate on an independent study of natural medicine. I met my husband, and we spent 10 months traveling internationally visiting spiritual communities around the world. This led us to choose a simple life in which health and spiritual well-being are a priority.

We moved to Vermont, where we had a small, commercial, organic farm. I started an integrative medicine family practice and home birth private practice. Later we moved to California, where my husband attended graduate school, and I worked in a practice with other integrative medicine providers. I enjoyed having like-minded colleagues, and we learned a lot from each other.

From California, we moved to Crookston, Minn. People often ask how we ended up moving to northwest Minnesota. Divine intervention? I felt drawn to the area for a number of reasons. I found the open space and big sky breathtaking. In my practice, I could offer my services to a broader population, and the clinic at the local hospital was very supportive.

I was pleased by the number of community members who previously had never considered natural therapies but decided to come to see me because they wanted a holistic approach. Often, they did not want another prescription and did want to address more than physical symptoms. With an integrative medicine approach, we could address all aspects of well-being and healing ― work life, home life, exercise, diet, stress, coping skills, emotional well-being, and spirituality

Holistic medicine refers to focusing on the “body mind and spirit,” but often there is less emphasis on the “spirit.” I try to make sure I focus on all three.

In time, I created an integrative medicine center in partnership with the hospital. I worked with acupuncturists, massage therapists, spiritual directors and others as a team to provide holistic care.

After 13 years in Crookston, I am ready for this new chapter at the Penny George Institute. I’m looking forward to working with a remarkable team of practitioners and serving patients in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area.

Debra Bell, MD, is now seeing patients. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.