By Robert Epstein, published on August 1, 2002 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
Psychologists are famous for trying to look inside people,
presumably to try to help them-specifically, to try to help them feel
better or behave more effectively. Now there's another way to look
inside, and it, too, might help people to change in positive ways.
Bob, a burly, ruddy-faced man, and his wife were sitting across
from me in the waiting room. Well, to be precise, this was an ancillary
waiting room; the main one was filled. "What are you in for?" I asked. He
said that he had retired a couple of years ago from the Los Angeles Fire
Department and that he had first come to HealthView about a year earlier
because he "felt like crap." His personal physician hadn't been very
helpful, so he turned to new technology. The city was willing to pick up
half the tab for a $900 "total body scan" of his aching insides, and the
results, he said, saved-and changed-his life.
The scan revealed, among other things, extensive calcium deposits
throughout his heart. But it wasn't the results that got to him; it was
the way he was shown those results. We usually get results over the
phone, days or weeks after we take a test. But the HealthView process is
very different. First, Bob lay on a table for a few minutes while a
computed-tomography machine (CT) scanned his torso and a computer
constructed a detailed, high-resolution model of his insides. An hour
later, a physician took him on a virtual tour of his heart, lungs, colon
and other internal structures, pointing out irregularities large and
small. Bob wasn't simply given the usual pronouncement: "positive" or
"negative." He was shown, with eerie precision on a large screen, exactly
what the inside of his organs looked like. Talk about impact.
Bob was then escorted to HealthView's staff counselor and was
advised about ways he could exercise and diet to improve his medical
outlook, and he was also urged to return to his physician for an
additional follow-up. Over the next year, he changed his diet radically
(his wife confirmed this), started exercising regularly and lost about 30
pounds. He felt and looked like a new man and was returning to HealthView
now to look at his new, improved insides.
Please note: None of this is about medicine. As clinic founder and
director Harvey Eisenberg, M.D., told me, "It's all about behavior."
Think about it: Someone shows you dramatic images on a screen; a
counselor gives you some advice; you start behaving differently. You
might seek medical treatment (after all, the CT scan sometimes picks up
advanced tumors that other tests have missed), but at a minimum, you'll
probably make constructive lifestyle changes. That's what Bob did.
The colorful images you're seeing on these pages are actual images
of my insides. (Talk about self-disclosure.) I was nervous about
undergoing the scan because I was afraid Eisenberg would find something I
couldn't pronounce, but I came out fine. I do have some slight
calcification in one coronary artery and some irregularities in my spine.
As a result, I've cut down slightly on my Ben & Jerry's intake and
I've begun doing back exercises every day with a huge, blue exercise
ball. The only down side of this is that I sometimes trip over the ball.
Maybe I should move it out of my living room, but I put it there
deliberately so that I'd use it more often.
Oprah Winfrey has reclined on that same scanning table, as have
William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Wagner and other notables. After
Dr. Eisenberg appeared on Oprah's show last year, his clinic was swamped
with more than 10,000 phone calls, and appointments were filled for
nearly a year. Following on the heels of Eisenberg's success, clinics
like his have begun popping up coast to coast, like Starbucks, and they
may soon be in every mall. Meanwhile, professional organizations, such as
the American College of Radiology, have expressed concern about the
overuse of this new technology. We're exposing people to radiation
unnecessarily, they say, and no study has yet shown the medical efficacy
of the scans.
But then there's Bob-and me, for that matter. We were taken on a
fantastic voyage through our bodies, and we made positive changes as a
result. The changes I've made are mainly preventative; Bob's are mainly
corrective. Recent studies show that the new graphic warnings on
cigarette packs in Canada are helping people to stop smoking, and those
warnings are merely generic. Imagine the power of graphic warnings
provided by your own body. You just can't shake the images. Your body is
screaming, "Help me!" and the overwhelming tendency is to assist.
Studies testing the clinical efficacy of total-body scans need to
be done, and quickly, because of the frantic pace at which scanning
clinics are spreading. Based on existing improvement research, I believe
that the vast majority of people will use the information provided by
these scans in positive ways to improve their health. The total-body scan
is, in my view, an ideal bridge between health and behavior. It shows you
a side of yourself you've never seen before, and that, of course, is
Robert Epstein is editor-in-chief of Psychology Today,
University Research Professor at the California School of Professional
Psychology at Alliant International University and Director Emeritus of
the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He earned his Ph.D. in
psychology at Harvard University.