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Practicing Chronic Wellness, Interview with Matt Hand, DO

Matt Hand250x 250In this interview, Matt Hand, DO, a pediatric nephrologist shares his views on how to help patients reach a state of wellness, no matter what the illness. He calls this practicing chronic wellness care. Dr. Hand will be hosting a webinar for licensed practitioners on blood sugar management in June 2015. Sign up at the end of this interview.


Kimberly Lord Stewart: I have heard you say that you practice chronic wellness care. What does that mean? And how did the term come about?

Matt Hand, DO: I have a central belief that every patient no matter how sick – no matter what they have – they have more much more wellness than disease. I don’t care if you have diabetes, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, chronic headaches or ulcerative colitis, they have more wellness than disease. All doctors are essentially trained in disease care. I wanted to change this concept.

It partly came to when I was treating a little girl with mermaid syndrome. She was a very complicated little girl, who wasn’t supposed to be alive. She lived for ten years. A big part of the reason she lived for as long a she did, was because she never thought she was sick. She had the worst condition that anyone on the planet could have, yet she never thought she was sick. This was who she was. She talked about becoming a princess, then a queen and an actress.

That evolved into me looking at how we can change medicine for kids with chronic illness. I did the fellowship in integrative care at University of Arizona in 2006, but I had no idea what I was getting into. From that day on, it changed my life and how I look at medicine.

I founded a program in pediatric integrative medicine at Maine Medical Center and three years ago was recruited by the Elliott Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire because they were creating their own new children’s hospital, called New Hampshire’s Hospital for Children. The senior administration was interested in trying to create a hospital that was based on the principals of integrative care. The goal was to have a more wellness based approach to children’s health rather than disease.

They recruited me as a pediatric nephrologist and a pediatric integrative doctor. Even though I am a nephrologist, I see kids from all backgrounds. I don’t just see kidney kids for integrative care. I see kids with inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, chronic headaches – I see the gamut of all different conditions. I also see some adult patients, most commonly with inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

KLS: What is your integrative approach to blood-sugar management and metabolism?

Blood-Test250x-250MH: Management of blood sugar and metabolism in general has changed over time. Not necessarily because of genetics, but because of lifestyle changes in our country and other parts of the world. I like to talk to my patients, no matter what the problem, with a healing intent. I ask them, what do you do from a wellness-based approach from the time they wake up at 7:00 in the morning to the time they wake up at 7:00 the next morning. Very often people come to me thinking I am going to give them an alternative supplement or herb rather than taking one of their blood sugar pills.

Actually what I am really looking at and asking is: How do you look at wellness? How do we take blood sugar and set it aside and really focus on how you stay healthy in your life. The reality is that blood sugar changes occur commonly because we aren’t leading healthy lifestyles. When we start changing our lifestyle, we can have a profound impact on our blood sugar.

I outline to every patient that I have a whole slew of modalities that I am going to look at. I run right through them. We talk about everything from conventional medicine and the use of insulin but then I get into more of the nutrition and exercise. My approach to exercise is very different. It is not six-pack abs and buns of steel – it is about how do you heal yourself with exercise. Exercise in itself should be viewed with a healing intent. We have changed it in our world. But the reality is the body should use itself to heal itself. So if people can change their emphasis on types and goals of exercise, they can have a significant improvement on what they can do and not feel overwhelmed by it all.

We also look at herbs and supplements and mind-body therapies. There is no question that stress has a profound impact on blood sugar. This is well documented, yet we ignore in our Western world the use of stress reduction techniques. I also look at Traditional Chinese Medicine and how this whole system works with metabolism.

I commonly approach acupuncture – not from the sense of blood sugar lowering but fixing some of the other issues that may be going on that are adding to the problems. So if the patient has knee pain or back pain and can’t get up and move very well, acupuncture may be helpful for that. I also might incorporate osteopathic

I see kids who have knee and back pain that prevents them from moving. And when they incorporate chiropractic care, massage, and osteopathic manipulation, they can improve those things to prevent them from moving. If you incorporate these into your treatment plan, then they can move more, begin yoga and decrease stress.

So it really is looking at 7am to 7am. What are patients doing that negatively impacts their life and how can we change that to allow them to manage blood sugar?

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About Matt Hand, DO

Dr. Hand graduated from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1989. He did his pediatric residency and chief residency at Maine Medical Center. Dr. Hand then completed his fellowship in pediatric nephrology at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Subsequently he developed the pediatric nephrology division at the Barbara Bush Children’s hospital at Maine Medical Center. In 2008 he graduated from Dr. Andrew Weil’s fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and created the pediatric integrative medicine division at Maine Medical Center. In 2011, Dr. Hand was hired by New Hampshire’s Hospital for Children at the Elliot Hospital to develop the pediatric nephrology division and to create a children’s hospital with integrative medicine as its cornerstone.  He has been featured in a number of international television shows including 20/20, the Discovery Channel and the Oprah Winfrey Show.


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