The Global Wellness Institute: Update With CEO Susie Ellis After Launch of Evidence Site

The Global Wellness Institute announced February 12, 2015, that it has launched a robust, open access Wellness Evidence site. The web resource is subtitled Evidence-Based Medicine Portal for Wellness Therapies. The data are organized under 24 separate modalities that are frequently part of wellness efforts, from acupressure to chiropractic, exercise, sleep, sauna, and yoga. Credited as data sources on the user-friendly site are Natural Standard (now Natural Medicines), PubMed, Cochrane Collaboration, and Trip Database.

The Global Integrator contacted Susie Ellis, MBA, cofounder of the portal’s sponsor, Global Wellness Institute: Empowering Wellness Worldwide. Ellis is a long-time leader in the global spa and wellness world. She shared how the evidence initiative began in 2007 as a site for spas when the focus of Ellis’ and her associates’ work was framed around the spas concept. “We started 9 years ago to get together globally and organize the first global spa conference,” recalls Ellis. The invitational gathering of now roughly 500 executives has since met in such places as New York, Bali, Switzerland, India, and the Aspen Institute in the United States. Just last year, “we decided that instead of just meeting once a year, we needed an organization.” Besides the annual gathering and the web portal, the resulting Global Spa Institute also engages research and has a growing focus on workplace wellness. Ellis explains that the term spa proved anathema to employers, so the group shifted to the “wellness” handle.

In 2007, as today, the evidence site has leaned on the expertise of corporate wellness expert Kenneth Pelletier, PhD, MD (hc), founder and director of the Fortune 500 studded Corporate Health Improvement Program (CHIP), and evidence-based medicine (EBM) expert Danny Friedland, MD.  The wellness industry that the evidence portal is meant to serve is huge, as the Institute has reported. The site shares estimates of the following “ten sectors comprising the global wellness market: Beauty & Anti-Aging ($1.03 trillion), Healthy Eating/Nutrition/Weight Loss ($574 billion), Fitness & Mind-Body ($446 billion), Wellness Tourism ($494 billion), Preventative/Personalized Health ($433 billion), Complementary/Alternative Medicine ($187 billion), Wellness Lifestyle Real Estate ($100 billion), Spa Industry ($94 billion), Thermal/Mineral Springs ($50 billion) and Workplace Wellness ($41 billion).”

Comment: Smart that Ellis and her associates showed the agility to make the name change in response to employers. The History of Wellness on the Institute’s site reports that in the 1980s large employers were the stakeholders who first promoted the “wellness” focus. That elevation of wellness was part of a realization of the National Business Group on Health, and others, that “healthcare was too important to be left to doctors.

In fact, another stakeholder was similarly indisposed to leave their health to regular medicine: consumers worldwide who began to explore “alternatives” such as nutrition, mind-body medicine, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, use of vitamins and herbal medicines, and more. That popular movement was reframed first as “complementary medicine” and in the last few years as “integrative health and medicine.” This is a movement in which Pelletier and Friedland are leaders, the latter as chair of the emerging global player, the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM). (Alignment of interest note: I serve on AIHM’s board.)

This is a terrific time to see this wellness resource appear. As I reported here in the Huffington Post, an innovation leader at the Mayo Clinic, the current president of the American Hospital Association, and other thought leaders in medical delivery are increasingly articulating the need to move from “sick care” to a focus on what some call “health creation.” In December 2013, for instance, the former head of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Don Berwick, MD devoted an entire keynote to the topic, speaking of health creation – the road to salutogenesis – as a 30 year journey that must begin now.

Perhaps Ellis and the Global Spa Institute, with employers at their side, can support and infuse these health systems so that they can become trusted to lead, as these progressive voices urge, a movement to “health” and not just “medicine.” As the CEO of the multi-hospital Allina Health system in Minnesota (United States) pointed out in this other Huffington Post article, when systems are incentivized to keep their patients healthy, “integrative medicine will be an asset.” The new Wellness Evidence website is a new piece of that asset.


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