Focusing on individuals and personalized medicine is the most important aspect of Dr. Morris' practice in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Instead of seeing a nurse practitioner or a doctor for 10 minutes or less, Dr. Morris gets plenty of time to listen to patients, looking for the root cause to problems rather than merely masking symptoms with Band-Aids.
Read the full Prescott Valley Tribune article here.
After more than 30 years as one of Prescott, Arizona's top primary care physicians, Dr. Dan Morris has had enough.
"The American health care system is gradually turning its back on our Baby Boomers and seniors, so I have decided to do the exact opposite. A person's golden years should be lived to their fullest, and without health, this can't happen," says Dr. Morris about his transformed practice called n1Health at Windsong Medical Park.
Today's seniors are the most negatively impacted by the American healthcare crisis. The country is faced simultaneously with an acute physician shortage and unsustainable cost inflation for providing care to its citizens. Analysts anticipate that if not corrected, by 2044, the government will spend what would amount to one hundred percent of its tax revenue on health care at today's tax rates.
As the system seeks to curb spending, it is becoming ever more difficult from a financial perspective for medical practices to serve seniors. So many are closing their doors to Medicare patients.
"We are taught by the media that the U.S. has a health care cost crisis. What we really have is a HEALTH crisis," says Dr. Morris. "The solution is to stop recklessly consuming our health and start creating and protecting it. Health is a gift of immeasurable value, and as a physician, I see myself as a steward of this gift for a small part of our community."
As of June 1, Dr. Morris will lead a medical revolution of sorts here in Prescott with the support of a Virginia-based firm called n1Health.
"Our mission is to spark a transformation in American health care by partnering with a carefully selected group of the country's top physicians to create practices of the future," says Tom Blue, healthcare futurist and President of n1Health.
"When I met Dr. Morris, understood his legacy of incredible personalized care in this community, and heard his vision for the future, it was an easy decision for us to partner with him. We believe that by providing something extraordinary to a small group of people here in Prescott, Dr. Morris will demonstrate a practice model that will inspire other physicians to do the same."
So what will be different about this special medical practice?
At the heart of its uniqueness is the belief that health cannot be defined as the mere absence of diseases and their symptoms.
"What we really have in the U.S. is a sick care system. American health care has become fixated on identifying, classifying, and treating symptoms. The fact is that symptoms are our body's messengers telling us that something is wrong. Shooting the messenger with a magic pill rarely solves the underlying problem. But this is what we do," says Dr. Morris.
"People don't have heart attacks because their bodies aren't producing enough Lipitor. We're not depressed because we don't secrete enough Prozac." Dr. Morris believes that given the proper time and technology, physicians have the ability to investigate the root causes of health dysfunction and address the problem at the level of the cause - not the symptom. "When you invest early in the effort to manage health this way, symptoms often fade on their own. The downstream savings are enormous, both in terms of cost and unnecessary suffering." Morris's n1Health practice is a novel fusion of state-of-the-art technology and ancient principles of health optimization centered on the vital importance of lifestyle - diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.
Technologically, the practice is armed to fight cardiovascular disease in a new and enlightened way to protect its patients from heart attacks and strokes.
"Cardiovascular disease is by far the greatest killer of men and women in America," says Morris. "Yet we combat it in an incredibly outdated way by simply medicating risk factors like cholesterol. More than half of people who have a heart attack have normal LDL cholesterol. 86% of heart attacks occur in people who would pass a stress test the day before their heart attack. Our standard measures of risk in this area are lethally inadequate."
Instead of waging war with risk factors in hopes of avoiding the events that they so poorly predict, Dr. Morris will search for the earliest signs of disease with sophisticated lab testing and by looking painlessly into the vascular systems of patients using ultrasound technology to see if they have the earliest signs of disease.
"If we find disease, we treat the disease. Modern science is inviting us to move beyond the days of seemingly healthy people who have no apparent risk factors dropping dead of heart attacks after a ten-mile hike. My patients and I are not going to wait anymore for the health care system to catch up with the science. It will never happen."
In a state known for its sunshine, Dr. Morris will safeguard the skin of his patients using a computerized, digital photographic mole scanning system that scores each mole for risk and tracks changes in each mole from one year to the next.
"This is an obviously superior way to monitor and manage the risk of skin cancer," says Dr. Morris. But because the technology, widely used in other countries, is not paid for by insurance carriers, American patients have no access to it outside of a practice like Dr. Morris's.
An inspiring blend of time honored wisdom and modern technology, Dr. Morris's n1Health practice will teach patients to use food as medicine with cooking demonstrations and group programs on topics ranging from reading food labels to vegan cooking, juicing, and healthy smoothies.
People who hear the story of the practice often ask how Dr. Morris and n1Health can offer something so personalized and different while elsewhere in the health care system, appointment times are only getting shorter and more rushed.
The answer is simple. While most primary care doctors manage panels of 2,000 to 3,000 patients, Dr. Morris will limit his practice to only 400 patients until he adds another physician to his team.
To make the practice financially sustainable, patients pay a membership fee, similar to a health club, of $165 per month to cover the services provided by the practice that are not covered by Medicare or commercial insurance. Patients who pay annually receive a 10% discount.
While the practice is incredibly innovative in its approach to managing and optimizing the health of its patient members, this financial arrangement between patients and their physicians, known as "private medicine," is becoming quite common across the country. The American Academy of Private Physicians reports that more than 5,500 physicians are now practicing this way, and the movement is growing rapidly.
"As Americans, we have become dangerously confused about the intended role of insurance in health care - especially at the primary care level," says Dr. Morris. "Where else in our insured lives does insurance pay for prevention? We don't expect Geico to pay for our oil changes or our homeowners insurance to buy our fire extinguishers. People decide on their own what their tolerance is for certain risks, and they invest accordingly."
"We're led to believe otherwise, but health care is no different. We have created a unique medical practice for people who value health and want to grow and enjoy it to its fullest. Yes. It requires an investment. But if you value health, the return is beyond measure."
For a limited time, Dr. Morris is accepting new patients. People interested in learning more about him and his practice, n1Health Windsong Medical Park, are invited to contact the practice by phone at (928) 772-1505 and visit his website.
He uses technology and lab results to search for the causes of his patients' symptoms.
He also listens to them, which is not typically how it's done.
"The doctor comes in (to the exam room), looks at the computer, tends to the computer as if the computer were more important than you are, and then prints out some prescriptions and says, 'I'll see you in six months,'" he said.
"If you're lucky," he added, "the doctor may say, 'Get some exercise and watch your diet' as he heads out the door to the next patient."
That's a product of the current state of the health care system, where physicians allot perhaps 10 minutes to a visit, up to 30 patients a day.
"Primary care physicians have been squeezed to see more and more patients in order to make their practice financially viable," Morris said.
In contrast, Morris allows no less than 30 minutes per visit, and hour-long appointments are common. He takes the time to learn "the story of your health," because "there can be clues in your history and your family history, even your relationships - stresses in your life can be affecting your health and you may not even be aware of that."
Dan Morris, who has been practicing in Prescott Valley for 32 years, is an advocate for "functional medicine." It's about finding and treating the causes of health problems, which he said is ultimately more effective than addressing the symptoms.
"What we have here today is a health-care system that isn't working," Morris said. "The system is failing Americans and it's failing our health by focusing on the superficial aspects of what's going on," such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight, and body-mass index.
"All those things are being treated with prescription medications, often, when there's a root cause that's really causing the problem," he said.
He gave the example of a patient who came in and said she wasn't sleeping well, had no energy, and frequently became short of breath, but had seen all the usual specialists with no relief.
"What I'll do is go over the records, go to the specialists' reports, and then go deeper, looking for problems," he said.
One technology that was helpful in that case is a body-composition analyzer. "That tells us the amount of muscle that's in a person's body compared to the other elements of the body," he said.
The woman had a "normal" weight for her height, "and those are the two standard things you measure when you come to the doctor's office," but the body-composition analyzer showed that she had "a serious lack of muscle and an excess of fat," Morris said.
He learned that she had been caring for her ill husband who had died, and in addition to the physical symptoms, was taking antidepressants as well.
"What she had was a serious medical condition called sarcopenia, or loss of muscle," he said.
He was able to develop a course of treatment involving muscle building, "and she's fine now."
And he does make house calls when necessary.
"One thing we pride ourselves in, is availability," he said.