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Lower Costs Lure Patients Abroad; Benefits of Having More Sex; Conversation with Dean Kamen

Aired January 9, 2010 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to a place, a special where we're going to teach you how to live longer and stronger. I'm going to be your doctor, but I'm also going to be your coach and your guide.

We're going to start with the news of the moment, health care. Imagine going to a third world country and getting first class health care for a fraction of the cost. I went along with these patients to see for myself -- remarkable stories.

Also, the Segway, you've probably seen that. The inventor of this device is a man by the name of Dean Kamen. Many have called him a modern day Thomas Edison. He has some extraordinary views on health care -- in fact, he thinks he has a solution. We'll tell you about it.

What (INAUDIBLE) sex? Elizabeth Cohen thinks that having more sex is actually pretty good for your health. We'll tell you all about it.

Let's go.


GUPTA: Well, here we are, SANJAY GUPTA, M.D. It's a new journey for me and I'm delighted to be able to take it with you. We're going to do this together and learn a lot along the way.

We start, though, with the ongoing battle over health care. Imagine, to save money, your best option is going to a third world country. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all dressed, packed, ready to go.

GUPTA (voice-over): People, patients, from all parts of the world -- packing up and heading here, all in search of the same thing.

(on camera): We found ourselves in Delhi. What we really wanted to know is where are all of these patients congregating. You know, there's no question, medical tourism is very popular. If you google it, you'll find more than 5 million results.

Sixty billion dollars will be spent on medical tourism this year. Well, in the next two years, $100 billion.

We came here to Max Hospital, we want to find the patients.

Hello? Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you. Sandra nice to meet you.

(voice-over): Sandra Giustina has been waiting more than three years for surgery to treat her atrial fibrillation. Until now, she couldn't afford it. She was told she would get a bill for $175,000 in the United States.

(on camera): How much is it going to cost here, Sandra?


GUPTA: So, $175,000 versus $10,000?


GUPTA (voice-over): Her story is typical. On average, the cost of some operations can be 10 percent of what they would cost in the West. So, no surprise, some of them are venturing beyond their borders for the first time to get medical care.

What they often find is a new culture, a new language. But, also, a new kind of patient experience: a balance of western medicine and eastern hospitality. But, of course, it's the quality of medical care that really matters.

I scrubbed in on a few operations while in Delhi to get an inside look. First up, ablation surgery for Sandra's heart.

(on camera): So, Sandra, how are you feeling?

GIUSTINA: Good. I'll be glad when it's over (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's been a little nervous.

GUPTA: Now, she's been a little nervous, but she said one of the things that helped her is that her doctor back home has been communicating with her doctor here in India. It gives her a real sense of comfort.

You ready to see the inside of your heart?

Take a look at here at these images. What you're looking at is her beating heart and the catheters are going in. They're about to do the critical part of the procedure.

We're going to check in with Sandra in a second, but first, we were curious, how does a hospital like this take care of patients from so many different countries?

(voice-over): Most tourists book their operations online with the help of a medical travel planner. Companies, like Planet Hospital, facilitate the whole trip, Wi-Fi in your room, access to food chains and restaurants, coffee shops, even a book cafe -- all in the hospital lobby.

But with all of this personal attention, high-tech machines, highly-trained doctors, how can the price be so much cheaper?

DR. AJAYA JHA, NEUROSURGEON, MAX HOSPITAL: I think we keep the administration costs very low. We negotiate our machines very, very hard. I get paid less than 1/10 of what a neurosurgeon in the United States would make. Our personal costs are much lower.

GUPTA: Of course, no matter how far you travel for medical treatment, there are concerns like post-op care and also what your legal rights are. And there's no guarantee it's going to work out as planned.

As for Sandra, her surgery was a success. I had a look at her heart scans post-op and the fibrillation was gone, for now.


GUPTA: I'll tell you. It was just a remarkable trip for sure. And after spending so much time in India, it's clear to me that this concept of medical tourism has only begun. We're going to travel to all over the world on this show to show you stories just like that, what's happening around the world.

Take a look at this. You're looking at a new feature we're going to have on the show every week. I'm going to post an image like this one on And I want you to e-mail me. We're going to have this conversation. This is a medical mystery of sorts.

So far, we've gotten all sorts of different guesses. Sponge in the brain was one of the guesses; a brain tumor; a stroke. I'm going to tell all about the mystery that's going to be solved a little later on in the show. So, stay with us for that.

Also, something a lot of people are talking about: these new body scanners. Maybe you've already seen. There are at airports.

Question a lot of people are asking: could they possibly be exposing you to some harmful radiation. I'm going to answer that question definitively on "Ask the Doctor."

And a conversation with one of my favorite guys, his name is Dean Kamen. He's an inventor of sorts and he also has a fascinating view on health care. We'll hear from him.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with SGMD.

You know, every week at this time, I'm going to be answering your questions. Think of this as your own appointment, no waiting, no insurance, as well.

We've been getting a lot of questions about something on the news lately, about the safety of these new airport scanners. A lot of the scanners are already in airports and more are on the way as we heard from President Obama recently.

Annette in Washington, D.C. writes this: "I'd like to know if the full body screening proposed for all our airports present any health hazards -- more specifically, harmful radiation that could lead to long-term problems."

Well, Annette, let me start off by saying this -- I travel all the time. And I have a wife, I have three kids, who also travel a lot. So, I really want to break this down for you.

First of all, we're talking about this thing known as backscatter X-ray screening. You're taking a look at it here.

The important thing to sort of notice as you look at images like this is that you're actually bouncing some radiation off the scan and it's coming back to the machine. That's how authorities can scan and get images like the ones you're looking at right here. And they're trying -- they're obviously trying to look for some dangerous items that might be underneath someone's clothes.

But we've checked into this. The radiation is at pretty low levels because, again, it's bouncing off the skin, not penetrating the skin, or more importantly, penetrating your organs. This is unlike a medical X-ray.

You know, you get an X-ray like this -- you're actually seeing a hip implant. That's what a medical X-ray looks like, that's used to see bones and other tissues.

In fact, passing through these scanners actually expose you to about 100 times less radiation than simply taking a flight from Boston to California. Now, when flying, as you may know, you're exposed to cosmic radiation because you're closer to the sun. So you do get some radiation.

But as far as all of this goes in that, and for everyone else who's concerned, bottom line: it would take about 125,000 trips a year to hit the yearly max dose. Every expert that we've talked to said these are safe. Even if you're a frequent flier, the radiation is just not going to add up.

TSA does add, as well, that if you want, you have the option of a pat-down if you're concerned.

Now, I want to switch topics now to something that I've thought a lot about. This whole idea that when we're talking about health care, we've really got to talk about personal responsibility, as well. And we're here to help you with that component of things.

I'm going to show you some video right now that may change your mind about drinking that next soda. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): It's the latest YouTube sensation. It's not a water skiing squirrel or even a dancing baby, but a public service announcement about soda.


GUPTA: Some viewers may find this revolting, but New York City health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, says it is starting to get people's attention.

DR. THOMAS FARLEY, NYC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We have an epidemic of obesity that we feel that we need to respond to. We wanted to communicate in a way that people understand. And the visual images are the way that we communicate these days.

GUPTA: According to the ad, just one soda a day, that's 100 calories, could add 10 pounds to your waistline over the course of a year. And recent research from UCLA confirms the link, saying that one soda puts you at 27 percent increased risk for being overweight.

FARLEY: The calories that people tend not to notice.

GUPTA: The American Beverage Association agrees that the hundreds of calories in sugary drinks can add up, but says there was a better way to educate people. In a statement posted on its Web site, the ABA says, quote, "If the goal is to reduce obesity among New Yorkers, then this public education campaign should be based in fact, not simply sensationalized video that's inaccurately portraying our industry's products -- products that are fat-free."

They go on to say that the companies they represent offer low calorie and no calorie options, and that losing weight is as simple as calories in, calories out.

Farley says people have known that for years but they still don't get the point.

FARLEY: Most people have a very positive image of sugar-sweeten beverages, the sort of a treat to have at the end of the day. So, we wanted to drive home the idea that these are a risk.

GUPTA: And with more than 200,000 views on YouTube, the video seems to be getting that point across.


GUPTA: I'm not sure I'm going to be drinking too much soda in the near future. But I do want to stay on topic here. I've got a big challenge ahead of me this year. I'm going to do my first triathlon.

I've actually challenged six viewers to join me, as well. Next week, we're going to reveal to you those six folks from across the country. They're going to join me and then we're going to start our tri-challenge together. Hopefully, we can help all of you at home as well. Tune in, join the challenge.

All right. Maybe you made a New Year's resolution to lose weight or eat better, those are common ones. But how about this for a New Year's resolution? Have more sex.

Well, a soon-to-be released report shows sex can help you live a healthier life and even a longer life as well. So, CNN's patient advocate, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us to talk about this.

I love this topic. What are some of the health benefits of sex?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. There's an article in the "Journal of Sexual Medicine," which I know you have.



COHEN: Right, exactly. I do see that.

In the article, they talk about all of the health benefits of sex, one of them is: you live longer if you have frequent sex.

Now, let's look at some of the specifics. People who have frequent sex have fewer heart attacks, lower rates of prostate cancer for the men, and lower rates of breast cancer for the women.

And, Sanjay, I'm sure everyone's asking, well, what exactly is frequent sex. Some studies define that as three times or more a week. Other studies define it as a more than once a month.


GUPTA: Sorry, just doing some math here. Sorry about that.

You know, but I think that lot of people wonder -- how does sex do all of these things, all the health benefits?

COHEN: Right. Researchers don't really agree on why people who have frequent sex seem to be healthier. But one of the theories is just that sex is good exercise. You burn about 60 calories every time you have sex. That means -- we did the math for you, Sanjay -- if you have sex 12 times a month, that's the equivalent of running seven miles.

So, there you go -- you can run or you can have sex. There's the choice.

GUPTA: I told you we're going to give valuable information on this show.

COHEN: That's right. It's a good tip.

GUPTA: You actually wrote about a couple who got some of these health benefits. COHEN: That's right.

There's a couple. Her name is Sadie Nardini and she lives in New York. Her husband is a photographer and they decided last month to have sex every day for the month of December. They said they felt much better and they had all sorts of good things happen to them.

So, you can read all about that in my column.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for bringing us this. You had to talk about sex in our inaugural show.

COHEN: That's right, of course.

GUPTA: I appreciate it. I hope you'll come back a lot.

COHEN: Of course, every week.

GUPTA: Elizabeth, thanks a lot.

Stay where you are at home, as well. Everybody -- we've got some answers to this whole health care mess that we've been talking about. And some of them could be found in inventor machine shop. I'll explain that.

And check this out. Any ideas on what's going on here? Some medical mystery of sorts, this is a patient who had seizures for four years. Can you solve it?

I've got the answer later in the show. Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with the program.

Every week, I'm going to be taking you into the lives of some really fascinating people, something new we're doing on the show. These are people who are changing your world right now. They could be scientists, medical innovators, they could even be celebrities.

And today, we start with the inventor of more than 400 medical devices, Dean Kamen.


GUPTA: Sir, how are you? How are you doing?


GUPTA: Well, thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

(voice-over): Dean Kamen is an inventor.


GUPTA: On a bitter cold day, I went to visit him at his home in New Hampshire.

KAMEN: Well, actually, just to give you a sense of how things are going to go today, I thought I'd light the situation up. So, are we ready?

GUPTA (on camera): This is how you start an interview with Dean Kamen -- a light bulb hanging and burning.

KAMEN: And burning.

I've had this house described to me by various people, one of the best, was it's a cross between "Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory" and the Museum of Technology.


GUPTA (voice-over): Dean Kamen, you've probably seen his most famous invention, the Segway.

You might know about the first robotics competition for teenagers, Kamen started it. That's his true love.

It was all built on medical breakthroughs. He started inventing the first insulin pump when he was still in high school. He and his company DEKA had developed more than 400 patents.

Here's a home dialysis machine. And this wheelchair, the iBOT where you can dance, you can spin, you can stand six feet tall.

KAMEN: You fight with somebody in these, you're going to go down.

GUPTA: A Segway is basically an iBOT on two wheels instead of four.

(on camera): So, when you're looking for answers on health care reform, you may go to lots of different places, but this may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Dean Kamen's machine shop, but that's exactly where we are because technology, innovation, all of that, you believe has a very strong role when it comes to health care.

What do you think of what's going on with health care right now -- the whole health care debate?

KAMEN: Well, sadly I think it's a debate that has so polarized two sides that there's not a lot of common sense being said by anybody. Compared to where we were 10 or 20 years ago, our average age is a lot older. Older people need a lot more health care than younger people.

There's more health care available and they all want whatever there is. If it works, they're going to live longer and need more of it. We are generally sadly less healthy than we were. And oh, by the way, we want to make that health care available to another 50 million or 60 million people that we all claim weren't getting it before.

None of those statements is likely to lead to -- oh, we should be spending less of our collective resources on health care. None of it.

GUPTA: Do you think that with where we're headed -- and you've been following this very closely -- that we could potentially go backwards in terms of all the progress we made in health care?

KAMEN: What I'm afraid of is the result of this debate will be that we will have optimized some short-term wins. Everybody will get a little health care tomorrow and they'll lower that premium by a little bit for this and they lower the co-pay for that, and everybody will feel like they won.

But could you make more medical care available to more people over the next couple of years by eating your sea corn. By -- you know, all those docs, stop doing all that research that will cure this disease in five or 10 or 20 years. Don't fund that.

GUPTA: In Dean Kamen's big, broad world of looking at things, how do how do fix health care? What's your vision of fixing health care?

KAMEN: If the next generation of docs and researchers come along and one by one start wiping out the diseases that we're all terrified of -- besides giving us a healthier life, it will be way cheaper.

Now, personally, I think that will just mean we'll all expect to live to 100 or 150 and there will new problems. But that's why I say this debate is unreasonable. The debate shouldn't be about we've got to spend less and less and less on health care. The debate should be: we all want to live longer and healthier and happier and better. And to do that, we ought to focus our national attention on curing all these diseases and that requires a focus, serious financial commitment.

You know, when we want to win a war, when we're worried about our security, money's no object. Why aren't we putting the same passion and focus on wiping out diseases?


GUPTA: And so, what is his solution?


GUPTA: If you had a moment with President Obama and he was collecting all these opinions on health care now, you just had a couple of moments, what would you say to him?



GUPTA: We're back with SGMD.

You know, Dean Kamen is an inventor with a 35-year record of medical innovation. It's remarkable. And what he says is that politicians trying to get us out of this health care mess are potentially ignoring a huge opportunity.


KAMEN: You think that people are not being visionary enough, and not only should they not stop putting money into innovation, they can't, you're saying.

And also interesting here as well, is that what I'm holding in my hand is, in many ways, the genesis of everything that you see around here. 1975, that's when Dean Kamen came up with this, the auto syringe.

This insulin pumps came out of this. Insulin pumps is not a cure for diabetes, but it could dramatically reduce a lot of the complications that you were just talking about.

How big a deal is something, you know, everything that came out of this toward the health care debate?

KAMEN: If you add up the direct cost of diabetes and all the indirect costs, the higher occurrences of, for instance, cardiac problems, credible people will tell you it's about 1/3 of what the federal government is paying for health care.

So, you look at the way they extrapolate, oh, my God, the sky is falling in 30 years, this will go bankrupt and that will go bankrupt -- where in the next 30 years did they pop out this young lady that's going to come up with the vaccine to virtually eliminate some major disease like diabetes? I mean, I think diabetes in 30 years will be looked at like polio or smallpox, something that you read about in history books and realize it was a terrible scourge and a plague. But it's history.

GUPTA: There does seem to be this inherent skepticism or cynicism about big companies and big government, to some extent as well.

If you had a moment with President Obama and he was collecting all of these opinions on health care now, just had a couple of moments, what would you say to him? Because he wants to spend less and get more, that's what he's saying. You say, Mr. President, that's not possible? Is that what you would tell him?

KAMEN: I would say, "Mr. President, I think that there's no investment, no stimulus package, nothing you could do that would have a better return collectively to the country, to our companies, and to our citizens than to put more resources into finding really good, sustainable solutions to our medical problems.

What better place to focus more and more of our collective genius and innovative capability than on health care? Why is the debate a fight to spend less time, less money, less resources in the thing that we all claim is the most important thing we want? It's crazy.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: These are the exact kinds of conversations we're going to have on this show. We call them "Colorful Conversations." Much more of them, going straight to the source to hear people from all sorts of different points of view on very important topics.

Check this out now. It's the most recent invention of Dean Kamen. It's a swim fin built for a double amputee named Amy Mullins (ph). You're going to see her, you're going to meet her next week and talk a lot about this.

Also, have you figured this out yet? So far, we've had lots of guesses. I'll give you a clue, it is a scan of the brain and there's something happening to the brain. We've heard everything from damage after a stroke to a brain tumor. Who's right? I'll tell you next.

Stay with SGMD.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

The whole show, we've been giving you a mystery to ponder. Now, it's time to solve the mystery. Take a look here.

This is -- for those of you who guessed brain tumor, you were right. This white area over here is, in fact, a tumor. So, you got that part of it right if you guessed that.

If you guessed that it was also an epidermoid tumor, you get double credit. That's exactly what it is. It's a rare sort of tumor. And, in fact, it's one of these tumors that's benign. So, after removing the tumor the patient is, in fact, cured.

You see all the area of white is obviously the tumor. The brain sort of comes back out after that tumor is removed and the patient is doing quite well.

This is something we're going to do all the time. I want you to play along with us at home as well. You can check out the Web site where we'll be posting an image this week and then we want you to send in your guesses. We're going to have this conversation. You can e- mail us,

If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check my podcast, And remember, as I said, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. We're dedicated to that.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.