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Physician Takes Patients to Market, Commits to Healthier Lifestyle


Joseph Barry, MD, visits his local farmer's market at least twice every month. He does so for reasons beyond his own preference for healthy eating. That's where he greets many of his patients.

Joseph Barry, MD, visits his local farmer’s market at least twice every month. He does so for reasons beyond his own preference for healthy eating. That’s where he greets many of his patients.

Barry, a Camillus, NY family physician, greets his patients at the local farmer’s market because he wants to keep them healthy by helping them figure out how to keep fresh produce from getting boring. To that end, he shares recipes and healthful tips, and also leads healthy walks with his patients along the canal in town.

For Barry, that’s a way of life—and he hopes to instill it in his patients.

“Diet and exercise, exercise and diet—that has been my mantra for years,” Barry says. “I can’t make you want to exercise. But if we have a conversation and I use motivational interviewing, we’ll find your motivation and find out what is important to you.”

It has been a successful formula.

Mired in the Routine

Barry didn’t plan on becoming a physician while in middle or high school, and his father, who ran a successful practice, didn’t influence his career choice either.

“He was completely neutral,” Barry says. “He didn’t care if I became a doctor or a lawyer. He just said, ‘Be the best you can be whatever you want to do.’”

Instead, it was the science courses Barry took during his junior and senior years at Cornell University that got him thinking about medicine.

“I felt I would enjoy the combination of hard science and the physics of pharmacology; the hard science of the anatomy,” Barry recalls. “I knew immediately that I wanted to be a doctor who worked with people. A doctor who followed people and their families over time.”

So he joined his father in his central New York practice, but soon found himself “beat down by the irregularity of medical care,” and the fact that “everything became a 15-minute problem.” He languished, and started doing what almost every other doctor does: Whatever the insurance companies allow.

“If I have to see 10-minute office calls, I’ll do that,” Barry recalls thinking. “Whatever it takes to keep the money flowing and get the people in and out.” At one point he was seeing 45 patients a day. That’s when he realized things had to change. “I was making more money, but it was not good care.”

Finding the Better Way

Barry wanted to get at the underlying issues of many diseases: lifestyle and diet. He lamented how 80% of Americans don’t follow the dietary and exercise approach that the government recommends. Instead, they rely on exotic treatments and high-priced medication to address their ills. As a result, there’s little incentive to living a healthier lifestyle.

“Look at this new medicine for high cholesterol the FDA approved,” he says. “It’s $14,000 a year, wholesale. It does lower cholesterol, but there isn’t one scintilla of evidence that it reduces heart attack and stroke. And for $14,000 a year I can hire a dietician, a nutritionist, a personal trainer and a personal cook. That’s a lot of behavioral change before you get to $14,000.”

It frustrates Barry that too often patients and physicians alike forget about the basics and focus instead on the easy high-tech fixes.

“I’m trying to reverse that whole paradigm and get people to be mindful of what’s going into their mouths,” he explains. “As a profession, we just spend lip service on diet and exercise. It has to be more than that.”

Barry has since divided his practice. He takes a preventive approach with his patients in both offices, but one is what he calls his tranquility basin. As a member of SignatureMD concierge medical group, Barry is able to give those patients more personal attention.

“That’s where I have more time to talk about diet, exercise, lifestyle, and smoking,” Barry says.

Outside the Exam Room

Barry spreads the word about healthy lifestyle and nutrition in other ways, including a column he writes for Table Hopping, a website covering central New York’s dining, nightlife, and entertainment scene. But as Barry explains it, his column is a little bit different.

“For example, one of the last columns I wrote was titled ‘Drop Dead,’” he says. “We celebrate birth with balloons and the hospital plays music. But when someone dies, it’s hush-hush. Part of my practice is helping people understand it’s the circle of life. And it doesn’t have to be as bad as we make it out to be.”

Barry says it’s all about having a plan. He laments the patient in ICU surrounded by machines and not knowing where they are.

“Medical expenses for people are highest in their last 90 days, and almost none of that is well used,” he says. “It’s all about being patient-centered, not physician-centered. It’s not what I want, it’s what you want.”

Barry also leads by example, maintaining an active lifestyle by participating in the martial arts. He’s been active in karate since his adolescence, and loves the combination of physical training with mental training. He also became actively involved with jujitsu several years ago.

“In some ways it’s like physical chess,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable workout. And it’s mental training as well as physical training. I do that once a week, and I’m trying to build up to twice a week.”

Still Growing

Barry believes it’s important to keep the brain growing. For him, that means a recent engagement with saxophone lessons. He has also become fond of yoga, but the dilemma is that yoga is offered at the same time as jui-jitsu.

“But I’m going to figure it out,” he promises. “I want to be able to do two yoga lessons a week, two jui-jitsu sessions a week, and one saxophone lesson every two weeks. That’s my goal. And there’s nothing stopping my goal except time management. I’ll have that figured out soon.”

And you know he will.

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