The real Dr. Patch Adams says Gesundheit!
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(CNN) -- Over the holiday weekend, millions of moviegoers headed to theaters across the country to see Robin Williams as "Patch Adams," sending the movie to the No. 1 spot on box office movie charts. The film is based on the life of a real doctor, Dr. Patch Adams and his lifelong quest to change America's health care system.
Dr. Adams is the founder of the Gesundheit Institute, a medical center in West Virginia. He's also author of the book "Gesundheit!" In German that means "good health." Anchor Bill Hemmer recently interviewed Patch Adams on CNN Morning News.
DR. PATCH ADAMS, THE GESUNDHEIT INSTITUTE: Thank you for having me.
HEMMER: Help us understand who Patch Adams is, and I think maybe the best way to start is maybe with the clothes you're wearing. You consider yourself a clown more than a doctor. How so?
PATCH: Well, I'm a clown, which could be a public health role. I'm really interested in moving our society away from a society needing Xanax and Prozac, and that is really feeling depressed, to one that is celebrating, and so I find just walking around in colorful clothes, people smile. One of the things I notice, too, is if I see people fighting in public, if I change into my clown character, I can stop the fight -- so far -- 100 percent of the time. So I feel like I'm doing a public service, medically speaking, to walk around this way.
Q: Let's pick up a little more on that. You are well known in the medical community because of your institute in West Virginia. You are now well known for your book and your movie, but the big hang-up with you appears to be the current relationship between most doctors and most patients. You say it's not adequate. Why not?
PATCH: Well really, I entered medical school 31 years ago to create a model that would address all the problems of care delivery in one model. So we created a hospital 28 years ago that doesn't charge money, doesn't carry malpractice insurance, doesn't accept third-party reimbursement; it integrates all the healing arts. And we wanted to humanize health care. So initial interviews with patients were three or four hours long.
Our ideal patient was somebody who wanted a deep, intimate friendship for life. We knew in that kind of relationship that great medicine can happen. And so, in the modern context with an HMO or some of the other reimbursement styles of practice, what you have is telling a doctor who wants to connect with a patient that they only have 7.8 minutes with a patient, and that's not time even to address their hairdo.
Q: Yes, you mentioned the hospital. You're trying to raise right now about $25 million for the Gesundheit Institute, and I...
PATCH: Right. We're building a 40-bed rural-community hospital...
PATCH: ... in the least served state in America, West Virginia, as a stimulant, not as an answer to our health-care needs, but as a stimulant for people all over the world to look away from the business model of medicine and say, why not a service model not only for medicine, but what do we do in order to move our society away from a "self" society and a society based on money and power to one towards generosity and compassion.
Q: But to raise the money, Patch, you needed attention. And to get the attention you've kind of resorted to the book and the movie, correct? And if so, is it...
PATCH: Right, I tried for -- I mean, I think, for 28 years I tried traditional sources. I tried over a thousand foundations and none of them would fund a hospital that doesn't carry malpractice insurance. I tried, I think, every possible means, from writing stars and politicians that said they were interested in healthcare delivery issues, and I had no luck, and so I made a Faustian contract and now I'm going to the people.
Q: Is it working?
PATCH: Well, I think when you say working, if you mean a finished hospital in West Virginia, I think that the consequences of this movie and its popularity, they're not -- it's not popular because it's funny; it's popular because it's a humane message of compassion and generosity in medicine. And we have an 800 number, 877-SILLY-DR. That -- if people will respond to this, I think it can build a hospital. I know I passed the hat at (a convention) this weekend and raised thousands of dollars, so I think people are responding. The medium of response in America is fame; that's how a person that bounces a ball can make millions of dollars and a school teacher with no fame makes $35,000.
Q: Yes, I know you don't want to harp too much on the movie, that's why I've kind of stayed away from it, but we would be remiss if we didn't ask you about it. Robin Williams plays your part. How did he do?
PATCH: Well, I think I understood Hollywood enough when I entered this contract to know that it wasn't important to get my biography correct. That's not what's important. I mean, that's a people-idea focus. What we're interested is in the idea focus. I think Robin himself is compassion, generosity and funny. I like to think that that's who I am, and so I think he was the only actor I wanted to play me, and I think he did a fabulous job, and my friends around the country are feeling that he gives that basic message.
Q: Your real name's Hunter. How'd you get Patch?
PATCH: Oh, Hunter is a Southern-boy name, and during the civil rights movement I was interested in abandoning all the parts of my Southern heritage.
Q: Well, you described yourself as complicated and eccentric. But we appreciate your time and stopping by. And best of luck to you with the book and the movie and of course the institute there in West Virginia.
PATCH: If I can just mention: You mentioned one book; I have another book...
PATCH: It's brand new. It's called "House Calls."
Q: All right.
PATCH: It's with my favorite cartoonist, Jerry Van Amerongen, and it's a real basic primer on how to visit a patient and make that a joyful experience and how to be healthy.
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