Cardiologist says neurons in heart can foster better business decisions
By Charles Rathmann, of SBT
The term “licensed technology” generally elicits images of computer software. But a licensed technology employed by a Shorewood cardiologist is designed to help business owners and managers use a different kind of software – the human heart.
Dr. Bruce Wilson is a licensed personal training licensee for HeartMath, a technology developed by the Institute of HeartMath (IHM), Boulder Creek, Calif.
While the thought of wellness technology developed in California encouraging people to explore their feelings may trigger certain biases, IHM’s system of tracking heart rhythms and using biofeedback to manipulate physical and emotional states is backed up by stacks of research.
The base collection of software and hardware retails for about $300. Group training is also provided directly by HeartMath.
Wilson, who initially was interested in using HeartMath tools to help with rehab of cardiac patients, found the tool also was excellent for hospital personnel.
Wilson plans to use HeartMath training for members of his staff at the Heart Hospital of Milwaukee, a 32-bed MedCath Corp. facility under construction in Glendale.
Wilson, who will be chairman of the hospital board, sites dramatic increases in employee retention and customer satisfaction tracked by an Illinois hospital using the training program.
According to Wilson and IHM literature, the Delnor Community Hospital in Geneva, Ill., had measurable business results after sending 40% of its staff to HeartMath seminars, including:
— A 20% reduction in employee turnover among employees attending the seminar;
— Improved customer satisfaction from the 73rd percentile to the 93rd percentile;
— A No. 1 ranking in employee satisfaction based on Sperduto and Associates’ national database of more than 300 health care organizations.
Wilson stumbled across the research supporting the new technology in medical journals in 1997. The fact that the institute was exploring the root causes of the stress that triggered or exacerbated the cardiac problems Wilson was treating intrigued him.
“They were talking about the vocabulary that makes up relationships,” said Wilson, who at the time was chief of cardiology at Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee. “I wound up attending a three-day seminar with 30 people. As soon as I started hearing the science behind it, I knew this was big.”
The science Wilson was so impressed with was IHM research that studied electrical impulses sent from neurons in the heart to the brain. Those impulses, IHM materials claim, are responsible for the brain’s release of stress hormones and have a direct effect on the brain’s higher thinking functions.
Extra beats and variations in heart rhythm that accompany stress, according to the studies, increased release of cortisol – the main human stress hormone – and inhibited release of other beneficial hormones, including dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
IHM used its findings to develop a variety of products for an associated for-profit venture, HeartMath LLC. Those products include a proprietary heart monitor and software tool that allows individuals to monitor their heart rates and get biofeedback information on how successful they are in locking in a healthy, stress-free rhythm.
“Quackwatch” doctor is skeptical of HeartMath
By Charles Rathmann,of SBT
A physician who maintains a Web site on “quack” medicine takes a dim view of the science behind HeartMath and the Institute for HeartMath.
Dr. Steven Barrett of www.quackwatch.com said that when he first found out about the claims made by developers of HeartMath technology, he “decided it was not appropriate.”
Barrett posted HeartMath and the Institute for HeartMath (IHM) on his Index of Questionable Treatments and Index of Questionable Institutions.
“I didn’t understand what they were talking about – the meaning of the words,” Barrett said, adding that while heart rate may be manipulated with the help of a the type of biofeedback machine HeartMath LLC sold, maintaining a steady heart rate without the machine was difficult.
“Hooked up to a biofeedback machine, there are certain mental maneuvers that can have an effect on pulse,” Barrett said. “But there are so many other things that influence heart rate. Where is the evidence that anything you do in terms of attempting to regulate the heartbeat can cause it to stay regulated or that there is any clinical value? A study on something like this would probably have to span a number of years.”
Science of the Heart, a booklet circulated by the HeartMath Research Center, outlines the results of studies involving Heartmath technology. Barrett took a dim view of the journals the studies were published in.
“If they go out of their way to publish crappy and inconclusive studies, you may assume the good studies don’t exist,” he said.
However, more important than the credibility of the journals, Barrett said, was whether or not research focused on worthwhile data.
“There is a lot of literature on relaxation, but there is not a lot of evidence that they influence health,” Barrett said. “Everyone has ways of relaxing. Most people don’t need therapy to know what helps them relax.”
Dr. Bruce Wilson, the local cardiologist who has bought a training license from IHM, said research conducted to date consists of short-term pilot studies. However, Wilson said seminars and tools sold by HeartMath have more to do with management and performance enhancement than medical therapy.
Wilson refers corporate groups interested in HeartMath training to IHM, focusing most of his own efforts on training the staffs of medical institutions.
“I think the whole hospital program is aimed at stress reduction for the staff and retention,” Wilson said. “The turnover rate in the nursing profession is very high. And as you know, we are having a real nursing shortage by now. I am not selling this to hospitals as another therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis. … When people hear about it, they are getting it from a guy whose business it is to understand this physiology. My credential is what allows people to accept the technology.”
April 18, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee