Interview with Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH, founder of Teleosis.

Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH photoInterview with Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH – June 1, 2008

In the face of rising waste and rising toxins, an optimist shares an encouraging word

Dr. Joel Kreisberg is a homeopathic practitioner with over 20 years of medical experience.  5 years ago he founded Teleosis, a not-for-profit institute that researches and educates about sustainable medicine, healthcare and environmental health.  We spoke with Dr. Kreisberg about the challenges he has faced in this industry and how he maintains his optimism amongst so much adversity.

How do you define “sustainable medicine”?

Historically sustainable means sustainable growth, and today it means sustainable living.  This is living today so as others can live as well tomorrow.  How are we going to have a healthcare system that reflects that?  It’s going to require us to put a limit on certain things that are growing out of control.  One of the reasons I’m interested in integrative medicine is that a lot of integrative medicines are old technologies and old technologies are more sustainable.  Sustainable means having realistic expectations on the resources to support the amount of growth in our culture.  It means respecting the life cycle and gearing medicine so that it allows the entire population to live a complete life cycle, not just those that can afford it.

Sustainable healthcare is also looking beyond the practice of medicine to include public health, environmental health and mental health.  Medicine has a tendency to forget about those things.  If we could embrace a shift in how we think about medicine and include public, mental and environmental health in the overall picture, we would save so much money because of preventative practices are more cost effective – that’s the essence of sustainable healthcare.

Is sustainable healthcare the same as greening healthcare

No, but they are not too different. We use the term “greening” more because the world likes this term but in and of itself it means little in terms of action. Greening is used in pushing any industry toward a more sustainable path.  Greening is more of an action and sustainability is an outcome. Green healthcare is a process of educating healthcare constituents in the kinds of things they need to do to introduce the three E’s: ecology, economy, and equity. 

Tell us a little about the state of the environmental healthcare industry. 

Well, the good news is that it’s a whole lot better than it was 10 years ago. The healthcare industry used to take care of its own waste, it was unregulated and we were incinerating everything.  But because of the work of Health Care Without Harm, we’ve actually brought an ecological conscious into hospital medicine. Health Care Without Harm is really the pioneer that pushed hospitals to think about what they were doing.  Now there’s more awareness and there are about 150 hospitals building green buildings. Health Care Without Harm, however, really only targets the big guys – which is where we come in – to help the smaller clinics and independent healthcare professionals consider their impact. 

You see, while the waste mass of smaller clinics is less, they still have the same waste streams as the hospitals*:  paper, single-use devices that are out of control, ewaste from the technology and then there’s the pharmaceutical waste which is my particular interest and where our Green Pharmacy program comes in.  Based on our data and projections, we guess that there’s about $71 billion of unused & expired drugs sitting around in medicine cabinets.  The base message and bottom line of the Green Pharmacy program is that we want everyone who’s prescribing drugs to take them back.  That could be a dentist, a therapist or a doctor and we want those that are making money off of it to pay for it.  Prescription professionals  need to get the message out that if you’re not using this drug, bring it back to me and I will take care of it responsibly (meaning it gets incinerated instead of being dumped down the drain or in the garbage).

What we need people to hear is this: anything we buy we want to know where it’s going to end up.  We need to police our mess which ultimately promotes integrative therapy – take less drugs, eat a healthy diet, live a healthy lifestyle and you delay receiving medications. 

How do you measure green healthcare?

While the healthcare industry is regulated in a conventional sense, it is the last to be regulated in the recent mode of carbon footprints . What is the footprint of drugs?  Drugs made in Japan get shipped here – what’s the footptint?  What are the effects on the environment of the carbon waste?  These are important issues that need to be studied.

You are an adopter of sustainable healthcare, but it is a niche movement or is it a movement that’s gaining traction in the mainstream medical world? 

At Teleosis we’re about to head into our  5th year.  There have been pioneers of the industry like the Hastings Center in NY and Physicians of Social Responsibility which started talking in 1991 about how physicians need to become more environmentally responsible.  These leading organizations have found that, in general, doctors are the most conservative group and most resistant to change in the industry.  Having said that – 10 years ago would we ever have believed that we are where we are now where you can’t really get cancer without being offered integrative medicine?  Or that acupuncture would be covered by healthcare plans?  So I actually think we’ve come a long way.

And the industry will grow because of the simple fact that we don’t have an endless amount of resources and we need to spend our money more wisely.  When we get some leadership at the national level we can start to invest our resource in things that save us money which is the bottom line for sustainability.  A good message that we can use with our patients is that, “I’m saving you lots of money” because the more you delay onset of disease, the more your healthcare bills go down.

Do people buy that argument – are people willing to take a hit on their bottom line for the greater good?

Well, yes and no.  Early adopters, yes – they think preventatively.  My goals are to establish a foothold in the healthcare system and we’ve done that. 

Who do you believe can be the implementers – private practitioners or will the government get involved?  

Family medicine and community practictioners are interested.  They are not necessarily integrative but they are frustrated with managed care.  Right now sustainable medicine is practitioner based, but green healthcare is at the higher level because they’re seeing cost-savings.  Our Green Pharmacy program is interesting in that it does go all the way up to the top.  Senator Barbera Boxer of California convened her committee in the senate in April about pharmaceuticals in water.  States and counties are also initiating programs.

The waste issue – pollution of our water, etc. – is actually a medical issue and that is the message we’re trying to get out.  We have to look at prescribing habits.  If we prescribe less, we cut down on the waste. This is something that has caught on all the way through the healthcare system which allows me to get the sustainable healthcare message out.

Are there other organizations with whom you could leverage and work together on a national level to spread the word more effectively?

Collaboration is the answer to all, I would love to work with everyone else.  Health Care Without Harm is the oldest organization (15 years), then there’s Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, now Practice GreenHealth & Physicians for Social Responsibility.  All of these organizations have been slow to partner because they haven’t understood that we’re doing something different.  But their work is for hospital-scale – not for 4-5 person businesses.  But I’m glad to say that they are starting to work with us.

It is daunting – the environmental and waste facts – what do you hold on to day-in and day-out to give you hope that we might be able to turn this around?

Reconnect with your passion with the outdoors.  The thing I do most is garden & hike and be outdoors.  Nature is the ultimate healer so the way I keep my inspiration is to be in nature and see how renewable it is and no matter what is happening there is always something blooming and beautiful.

*According to Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, health care facilities generate 6,600 tons of waste per day.  As much as 80% of a health care facility’s waste is solid waste — primarily paper, metal, glass, and plastics. Packaging alone accounts for 43% of all municipal trash.

Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH, is the founder and executive director of the Teleosis Institute. Currently adjunct faculty member at JFK University’s Masters Degree in Holistic Health Education, he is also an Associate of the Hahnemann College of Homeopathy and the Bengal-Allen Institute in Calcutta, India. Author of several books on Homeopathy, Dr. Kreisberg maintains a private practice in Berkeley, CA.

IHS Topic To hear more about this topic first-hand, attend Plenary Panel: Update on Environmental Health at the 2009 Integrative Healthcare Symposium. Integrative Practitioner members get 15% off Symposium registration when they enter discount code7470.