Call to Action

U.S. Surgeon General urges DOs to create ‘culture of prevention’

Too many patients have lost their sense of agency when it comes to managing their own health, says Vivek Murthy, MD.

One fact has become undeniably clear as Vivek Murthy, MD, has traveled the country during the last 10 months in his role as U.S. Surgeon General. “No matter where we live, no matter where we practice, many of us are dealing with a similar set of shared challenges,” Dr. Murthy told a crowd of DOs gathered at OMED 2015 in Orlando.

Those challenges stem from what Dr. Murthy calls a “tsunami of chronic illnesses” including diabetes and heart disease, which are responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in America and drive more than $1 trillion in health care costs each year.

Although the statistics are shocking, Dr. Murthy said the key takeaway is that many of these chronic illnesses are preventable. “The science is fairly clear on what we can do to help prevent much in the way of chronic disease, but the fact is that in too many of our communities, people still don’t have access to healthy and affordable foods.” he said. “People lack safe places to walk or wheelchair roll, or simply to play outside.”

Even more insidious, patients no longer have a sense of agency when it comes to managing their health, he noted. “People have lost faith in their ability to determine their own destiny and they feel more and more that their health is less and less in their control,” he said.

Turning the tide

Helping patients take control of their health and wellbeing is imperative to reversing the tide of chronic illness, Dr. Murthy said, imploring physicians to work toward creating a “culture of prevention” that focuses on preventing illness instead of just treating it.

Noting that people are often predisposed to believe their lives are a series of choices between health and happiness, Dr. Murthy said creating a culture of prevention is about finding creative ways to make healthy choices both attractive and accessible. “We can talk to our patients about how to build prevention into their lives in small ways,” he said.

Dr. Murthy’s office recently announced a call to action on walkable communities, stressing that just 22 minutes of brisk walking per day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. “Something we’ve been doing for millennia, something that doesn’t require expensive equipment or trainers, can help save lives,” he said.

The toughest issues

Calling on physicians to become more involved as civic leaders, Dr. Murthy stressed the importance of working with city councils, mayors and the media to address the underlying determinants of health: transportation, poverty, housing and infrastructure. “If we are going to become the leaders our country needs at this time in history, we need to be willing to take on the toughest issues facing America,” he said.

Another issue taking a toll on communities, big and small, is the opioid epidemic, Dr. Murthy said. Acknowledging the leadership role the AOA has played in fighting prescription drug abuse, he announced that his office will soon launch a grassroots campaign directed at helping the physician community take ownership of the issue by changing prescribing practices. “This is an effort that will be driven by and participated in by physicians,” he said.


  1. Josephine Bizzario

    Dr. Vivek Murthy, MD. I wanted to tell you that it is so nice to see you are doing so well. Not sure if you remember having dinner with us along with my son Michael. Keep up the good work!!!


    Mrs. Bizzario

  2. Jean-Paul bonnet

    The physician community is clearly responsible for the opiate epidemic. Wether consciously or unconsciously we over prescribed opiates and all meds and now we have a very drug addicted society. We must take the lead in reversing this process. Only we can shut down the flow of opiate prescriptions. It will create a rise in heroin use, we must get better in the treatment of heroin addiction. Nothing is presently working. Rehab centers are for the most part money making machines. We need to mobilize communities to create volunteer treatment centers.
    While on the soap box, our overprescribing of meds and our shift from the true dr still philosophy was worsened by direct to consumer drug marketing. We need to get politically active and shut down this practice. This alone has brainwashed our children to believe they need a pill to be alright. Nothing is further from the truth. Dr A T Still would turn in his grave to see what our profession has become.
    Less meds are best meds. The natural aging process of the human body is not a disease it is a process. Our bodies will function most efficiently when cared for. Our role as osteopathic physicians should be to coach and teach our patients how best to do this. Mind , body, spirit. We are failing miserably.
    Step up docs, do our job as our founder saw clearly. Serve and care for those that we have been privileged to care for. Aging is not a dis ease but a natural process.

  3. Sensitive

    Can we deal with some issues that are impeding physicians to practice medicine. For example, why do physicians that were certified after the year 2000 have to be re-certified? Why do the physicians that were certified before the year 2000 do not have to be re-certified? This seems to be a paradoxical concept, it seems that those who were certified earlier are the ones that needs re-certification more since his/her education is more likely to be outdated. Also, those who were never certified, now they are at the same status as those who were certified but are choosing not to be certified. How can this be?

  4. Author3

    Recently received this magazine in the office.
    OPIOIDS IN PREGNANCY: Trust between FP and patient is key
    AAFP President Wanda Filer: “We do not support criminalization or incarceration of pregnant women with substance use disorder.” article from Family Practice News, Vol. 46, No 12, July 2016.

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