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December 21, 2009

Surgery as a Teachable Moment: Lost Opportunities to Improve Public Health

Arch Surg. 2009;144(12):1106-1107. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2009.205

Undergoing a surgical procedure, no matter how minor, is regarded by most as a significant event. In my own life, a laminectomy for acute radiculopathy 15 years ago motivated me to begin a sustained (thus far) exercise regimen, something that I had always known I should but never quite got around to doing. This is an example of a “teachable moment”—a health event that spontaneously motivates behavioral change. Because I had a family history of heart disease, my laminectomy had a double benefit. Not only did the surgery resolve my acute radiculopathy, but it was the impetus to maintain good physical conditioning, which will hopefully translate to improvements in the quality and length of my life. Because behavioral change is difficult to initiate and maintain (as I am reminded each morning while sweating in the gym), the exploitation of surgery as a teachable moment could have a profound effect on public health, given that more than 60 million surgical procedures are performed in the United States annually.1

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