John La Puma, MD – the MDigitalLife Interview

Posted by: in Global Healthcare, Healthcare Insights, MDigitalLife, Medical Communications on March 21, 2012

#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized.  You can find previous posts here.

John La Puma’s dad wrote advertising copy on Madison Avenue.  His parents both brought home English degrees from college, and he took a significant load of writing classes in college.  So it’s only natural that he grew up to be … an MD in Internal Medicine?

John is the latest in what’s turning into a surprising string of very literary doctors in our series – and by no coincidence I think that such people are going to be the ones who lead us into the future of medicine.  In John’s house growing up, the expectation was that either you were outside doing something active, or you were reading.  Not surprisingly, John puts himself into the category of “Reader.”  Readers will read anything, wherever they are.  John still reads voraciously, and believes that it’s one of the things that’s made him a writer.  And even though his vocation followed a different path from that of his reading-and-writing parents, John believes that it’s made him a more effective doctor.

“How someone writes tells you how they really think.  At its best, my writing enables my patients to feel that they know me, even if we’ve never met.”

John La Puma MD

John’s love of language and stories carries over into his medical practice.  In fact, it was the stories he heard from patients and families as a 15-year-old working in long-term care facilities and hospitals that helped him decide to go to medical school in the first place.

And those stories gave him the crazy idea that they were a critical part of care.  John’s practice today allows him to spend up to two hours with a patient – an unheard-of model in the day and age of the 18-minute visit.  It allows him not only to really get to know his patients – their motivations, their fears and their joys – but also enables him to make the visits more fun.  John has a lot of interests that can impact his patients health in great ways, and he brings as many of them as possible into play.

“I’ve never been one of those people who’ve changed careers … the best advice I got was to just keep adding them.”

– John La Puma, MD

When John was in school, he began to get really interested in visual arts.  That’s been one of the drivers for making video one of the staples of his mission to create great, entertaining and relevant health content.  It allows him to grab people’s attention, motivate them and keep them engaged in subjects that they might otherwise not pay attention to.  He also became fascinated with clinical medical ethics, and spent 10 years becoming one of the country’s leading experts in the field – pioneering ethics consultation in the hospital, and authoring dozens of papers and his first three books, while maintaining a thriving medical practice with Lutheran General Hospital, in Park Ridge, Illinois.

That also led to John’s natural flow into the world of media  – and eventually of social media.  As the first fellow at the University of Chicago’s Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, his mentor Mark Siegler, M.D. gave him the opportunity to field regular requests from the media, both on and off camera, and it became a natural part of the job for him.  More recently, he co-hosted the national weekly television cable series “Health Corner” for Lifetime TV for four years, and currently hosts the PBS national special “Eat and Cook Healthy with Dr John La Puma”, airing quarterly through 2014.

Through that unusual (for most physicians) process of engagement, John came to understand that people tend to view their health very differently than do most MDs. He feels that the public is typically much more in tune with the practices of healthy living – like eating well, alternative therapies and exercising – than are many physicians.  Doctors are trained in the science of care, and want to be able to quantify illness, drilling down to a clearly discernible cause and effect.  And while that’s an admirable goal, it doesn’t always translate into a patient’s ability to follow through on their treatment.  John feels it’s necessary to offer the best of medical science, but to do so within the context of his patients’ lives, including their values, cultures and lifestyles.

Dr. La Puma on Good Morning America with Chris Cuomo:

Live TV!  Good Morning America with Chris Cuomo from John La Puma MD on Vimeo.


What’s really interesting is that John has a much more optimistic outlook on future of healthcare in America than most people do … at least in part because he’s seen a way forward.  John is less worried than most about the fact that fewer and fewer Americans are going through medical school, for three reasons:

  • First, as it becomes easier and more fun for people to be able to proactively manage their care between appointments (using health-related coaching, devices and hyper-relevant online content), they’re going to require less care … and John believes that the “Quantified Self” movement that started several years ago will finally become mature enough to impact a large swath of the population, especially as it is embraced by larger companies.
  • Secondly, MDs are going to get better and better at scaling their expertise to larger audiences – through e-enabled health coaching, and the creation and curation of great health content.
  • Finally, he believes that more and more healthcare will be provided by clinicians other than physicians: he cites the rise of the urgent care center and the corporate health center as examples of how the face of primary care has changed radically in the last 5 years

John has also received formal training as a chef and has taught nutrition in cooking school and cooking in medical school.  Healthy eating is such an enormous part of healthy living that it’s made perfect sense for John to be able not to just tell his patients to “improve their diet,” but to actually show them – in an entertaining way – how to do so.  He even operates a special cooking and recipe-focused web site –, to emphasize this facet of his practice.

Next? Back to the books, so to speak. After having authored or co-authored 6 books (including the RealAge series, co-authored with fellow #MDigitalLife alumnus Dr. Mike Roizen), John’s next book is going to help men get healthier, stronger and leaner.

John feels that men have been underserved and underacknowledged in their need to build strength, energy and stamina, for themselves and their families, and to protect their health. And that women, who make most of the health and cooking decisions in families, need strategies to help men get and stay healthy, and effectively communicate with men about their health and wellness.

“Men and women aren’t just physiologically different, they’re psychologically different as well. The way they make hormones, store fat, burn calories, process information and self-identify are all different.  Men need a targeted approach to weight and well-being that leverages their natural metabolic advantages, including testosterone production, rather than trying to force men to adapt to a homogenous dietary approach that drains it. Men can look and feel better with the truth about T.”

– John La Puma, MD

John is a student of digital health at a level few can match – in fact, I first came into contact with John 2 years ago as a semi-regular attendee of the workplace wellness tweetchat (#co_health) I founded with Fran Melmed of context communication.  Forgiveably, John had forgotten my assocation with #co_health (which has diminished over the last year) and focused on the work that Fran has done to bring the entire field of workplace wellness into the digital age.  He also likes the way that Johnson and Johnson has been willing to pioneer new roles for corporations to engage in ongoing health dialogues, citing the work of my trailblazing friend Marc Monseau. He thinks that ShareCare, RealAge and HealthTap have formed important curated content efforts, and that sites like Daily Feats are engaging people for the long term. He’s also a mentor for BluePrint Health, a fast-growing health tech incubator.  I swear that I didn’t plant this, but John cited the health innovation and communication work that my colleague and friend Paulo Simas is leading at WCG (John’s right; Paulo is pushing health innovation into shapes I never imagined; watch for what’s next with W2O Ventures).

John is also watching patient communities with a lot of interest – especially communities like Kerri Sparling‘s SixUntilMe diabetes community, which he believes is engaging in truly sophisticated dialogue about health and healthy living, as is The Nerdy Nurse, who is a techie/patient advocate.  More doctors should be paying attention to those leading-edge healthcare voices. And as far as digital docs are concerned, John is a big fan of fellow MDigitalLife veterans Howard Luks and Jennifer Dyer.

John’s made it easy to keep up with his work.  The best places to do that:


Paging Dr La Puma Blog:


Facebook Fan Page:


Google Plus:


YouTube 2:

ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine

Cooking the RealAge Way

The RealAge Diet

Ethics Consultation: A Practical Guide

Managed Care Ethics


And watch for his new book, tentatively called “The La Puma Eating Plan for Men”, which should be released in March 2013.  I’ll let you know when it’s available for pre-order on Amazon.


By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

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