Last week’s Mayo Transform symposium was a two-day excursion into the world of science, data, design, and the secret ingredient to health: love.

Patch Adams, MD, kicked things off in grand style. If you’ve never seen him speak, treat yourself to a hit of his energy:

In 1971, he and his compatriots opened a 24×7 hospital in a six-bedroom house to address every aspect of health, free of charge. Their “ideal patient was somebody who wanted to create a deep, personal friendship with us” and who understood the hospital promised care, not cure.

And now for something completely different (but stick with me — there is a theme here): Sharon Gibson, a health industry executive at Cisco Systems, who showed off a frankly luxurious clinic built to employee wish list specifications. 

Check it out:

I wasn’t surprised to see her data on the fewer hospital stays and higher use of generic drugs among their (ahem) majority-male, majority-college educated, majority-high income client base compared to the surrounding community.

But here’s what did surprise me: Cisco is not measuring the financial return-on-investment (ROI) of this spa-like clinic. They are measuring it in terms of customer (in this case, employee) satisfaction. To me, that sounded quite a bit like what Patch Adams described. Or, as I wrote down, “What is the ROI on love?”

That question was threaded throughout many of the other presentations:

Sona Mehring physically and memorably demonstrated the way a weight is lifted from someone’s shoulders when they realize they can use CaringBridge to keep in touch with all the friends and family members who want updates and to express their love.

Dean Ornish, M.D., sped through a cascade of evidence about how lifestyle change can transform a person’s health. He said that the level of effort is parallel to the level of improvement for both heart disease and prostate cancer.  But even more startling (to me) was his assertion that the U.S. is dealing with an “epidemic of loneliness and depression” more than an epidemic of disease. He urged not only a low-fat diet, but an increase of altruism, forgiveness, intimacy, and compassion. In other words: Love.

Michael Celender of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center talked about how they approached the “ideal story” for their Children’s Hospital, asking how a family involved in a car accident can provide comfort to each other even if they are being treated in separate hospitals? Answer: A video link so kids can “visit” their parents. What’s going to lower stress levels on all sides in that situation? Yep: Love.

Sharon Schindler Rising of the Centering Healthcare Institute, Inc., talked about how bringing expectant mothers together in a group care setting not only improves outcomes, but gives the moms a supportive community. One woman, who suffered early fetal loss, knitted each of the other expectant moms a pair of booties, presenting them with her best wishes for a healthy birth. (Love.)

But it’s not just patients who benefit. Clinicians find that the new paradigm of enabling better self-care allows them to focus on what they do best. And that makes everyone feel good. Or as one patient wrote in an evaluation of the Centering Health program:  “I love seeing my provider so happy and enthused.” (For more information, read Amy Romano’s excellent post on Centering Pregnancy.)

There were many other amazing presentations, but one of the most love-centered was by Sekou Andrews, who asked us to take stock of our health in the same way that we take stock of our finances. Indeed, his was the ultimate “What is the ROI on love?” talk:

Call me corny, but I’m going to take Sekou’s advice and keep track of my Net Health along with my Net Worth. And love is factored in to a degree that I didn’t appreciate before Mayo Transform 2010.

Donate