Shifting the paradigm: what does it mean to be well and how do we measure it?

Catherine Heaney cheaney@stanford.edu

Abstract

Numerous hours and countless dollars have been pumped to the healthcare industry, feeding the system of treating severe acute diseases or their chronic manifestations. Comparatively, little attention has been directed to remaining healthy and well on the days that one is not in the doctor’s office. The Stanford WELL for Life (WELL) Initiative shifts the paradigm to focus on well-being and the whole-person approach to determine its impact on disease prevention.

The study of well-being is growing in popularity and importance in various disciplines: the biomedical sciences, the health promotion and wellness field, psychology and other social science arenas. This lens shift to well-being comes from a change of mindset; traditional outcomes include new diagnoses, health events (e.g., heart attack), and disability and death, which DO NOT capture the human experience of chronic disease. Previous health education campaigns designed to promote healthy lifestyle changes are often viewed by patients as diminishing well-being.

WELL, the flagship initiative of Stanford Prevention Research Center (SPRC), is taking a global approach to advance the scientific evidence base about well-being in order to improve health and empower patients to be active participants in their own care. Taking the unique perspective of world-renowned researchers from SPRC, an eminent Advisory Board, collaborative community partners and engaged citizen scientists, we are measuring the factors that impact well-being over time in order to inform the development and testing of lifestyle and environmental changes aimed at lowering risk for chronic diseases and promoting health and quality of life among all segments of the population.

Our unique approach tapped the most under-utilized resource: the patients themselves. Reaching out to under-heard voices from all demographics and patients on the health continuum, brought us to the comprehensive conceptualization of well-being we have today. Focusing on the whole person approach, listening to different perspectives and the expertise SPRC researchers bring will lead to greater knowledge and wisdom will not only help shape research priorities but also empower individuals to take charge of their health today.
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