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62 Years Later, The Meeting Dr. Bernard Lown Was Waiting For

Dr. Bernard Lown

Dr. Bernard Lown (from a 2008 YouTube film)

I’ve never met him, but Dr. Bernard Lown is a hero in my family. About three decades ago, my father had some heart disease trouble, and was told he’d need open-heart surgery. Instead, he consulted with The Lown Center, named for its founder, the Nobel-peace-prize-winning physician Bernard Lown. Its less-scalpel-happy heart experts advised him to try lifestyle changes instead. A full generation later — and it’s quite literally a generation, because he has lived to enjoy much-loved grandchildren — my father is a Lown poster child, preternaturally young for his 85 years, eating (mostly) healthily and still working out every day. (Knock knock knock on wood.)

So when Dr. Lown speaks, I gratefully listen — and I was heartbroken to miss his speech at last week’s Avoidable Care conference in Cambridge. (Read Dr. Vikas Saini’s concise wrap-up here.) Fortunately, Dr. Lown is a nonagenarian blogger, and has posted his speech in full, titled “Social Responsibility of Physicians.” It’s full of big ideas about how doctors should treat patients, and little gems. It begins:

Ever since starting clinical practice 62 years ago I have looked forward to this conference. Mercifully, good fortune and good genes enable me to attend. From my earliest days in medicine I have struggled against the prevailing model of healthcare. My opposition in part was provoked by the growing prevalence of overtreatment. Resort to excessive interventions seemed to be the illegitimate child of technology in the age of market medicine. If more than a half century ago overtreatment was at a trickle pace, it is now at flood tide. Continue reading