What do a doctor and a detective have in common?
Plenty, according to Canyon Ranch in Tucson Medical Director Stephen Brewer, MD. They both need to search for clues, sort through observations and misconceptions, and trace every source to solve their mysteries. Fortunately, modern medicine gives physicians a wealth of diagnostic and treatment tools to help them in their work. The sum of medical knowledge combined with the latest technology makes it possible for doctors to be expert detectives and help people enjoy greater health and longevity than ever.
“We start with what’s natural,” Dr. Brewer says, “which is the doctor-patient relationship. We don’t just jump to technology but use it wisely based on what we learn from conversation, questions and observation. We’re fortunate to have excellent technological tools at our disposal.”
Canyon Ranch physicians regularly use technology that people would never expect to find at a beautiful vacation resort. In fact, the state-of-the-art medical equipment helps guests pursue health goals in an ideal environment – comfortable, unrushed and far from clinical. It’s high-level, low-stress health care.
The preventive path
The best way to deal with any disease is to prevent it, Dr. Brewer says. “A blood draw can be done to look for specific markers, called biomarkers. These can be used to detect early signs of diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“Lab studies like these can detect disease factors very early,” says Dr. Brewer. “If you have risk factors for preventable diseases, we can help stop the process before it actually gets started. That’s our goal.”
A long-range look
One of Dr. Brewer’s favorite diagnostic tools is the hemoglobin A1c test for diabetes, which measures average blood sugar level for the past three months. This is sometimes more useful than the usual fasting test that reflects what you ate most recently.
“This test detects elevated markers for inflammation,” Dr. Brewer explains. “It measures how much sugar has coated your red blood cells during the past three months, which is how long each red blood cell lasts. That’s a sophisticated, practical reading that helps us get the real picture.”
He also recommends the DEXA Body Composition scan. “This is the gold standard in measurements. It’s not about weight but assessing lean body mass and fat distribution. These are factors that affect long-term health.” Using this information, an exercise physiologist can follow up with a strategic fitness plan, too.
DEXA technology can also provide an invaluable picture of your bone health. This is particularly important for men and women who may be at risk of bone loss (osteoporosis or osteopenia). However, anyone can benefit from getting a baseline assessment. Based on the results, experts might help you improve your status with changes in diet or exercise. Subsequent scans will help chart changes over time, which is critical as you age.
While you’re at the Ranch, you’re likely to be more active than usual with fitness classes, sports and all the fun outdoor experiences. That’s terrific – and be sure to enjoy it safely! For an in-depth look at your cardiac and lung function, Dr. Brewer recommends the Cardiometabolic Stress Test, which can be administered on a treadmill or stationary bike.
“We get a measurement of aerobic fitness level, or VO2 max, with this test,” Dr. Brewer says, “and a good picture of heart status.”
Ranch physicians regularly use this leading-edge test to determine calories burned at any given heart rate, optimal exercise levels, aerobic threshold and more. Whether you’re a lifelong athlete, just getting started or jumping back into the game, this is valuable information for getting the most out of any fitness program.
“Heart Rate Variability Testing is another excellent investigative tool,” Dr. Brewer says. Especially useful for people concerned about depression, stress, anxiety or diabetes, this test records heart rhythm and changes. “It helps us see how daily stress affects your heart. There should, in fact, be some variability in the heart rate. A ‘frozen’ speed can be a sign of ongoing stress.”
Restful, healthy sleep
Sleep deficit is a widespread problem in the United States, with resulting health issues that can include obesity, cognitive impairment, heart risk and more. Specialized testing with new technology can diagnose sleep problems.
“You might think you’re sleeping well,” Dr. Brewer says, “but the tests could show you’re not. I saw one guest who took our WatchPAT screening only because her husband was taking it. Turned out she was the one with sleep apnea.”
WatchPAT works with a simple wristband and sensors that you can use in your room at night. Using that data, a Ranch physician can explain sleep patterns and any breathing disruptions and suggest therapies for enhanced sleep.
If you want to examine your sleep in depth, you can have an All-Night Sleep Study, or Polysomnography, in the specially designed sleep lab at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. A physician board-certified as a sleep specialist will review the detailed test results and make recommendations to help with apnea, snoring, waking up repeatedly and other sleep issues.
“Our sleep lab is an amazing asset. It allows a deep exploration of sleep, which is so important,” Dr. Brewer says. Guests can take away prescriptive therapies or recommendations for a CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, which is at-home equipment for managing sleep apnea.
The biggest advantage
While Dr. Brewer appreciates and uses the best of modern medicine every day, he says his “most valuable tool” is something that perfectly augments his high-tech investigations: time.
“When you have nearly an hour with each patient, as we do, you can get to the questions that most doctors can’t cover in a typical twenty-minute office visit. That helps us find something that’s not so obvious,” Dr. Brewer says.
“We have the technology, and we have more time. Medically speaking, that makes us a better detective agency."