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LEVELAND — In recent days, medical professionals and health watchdogs have slammed Dr. Daniel Neides, director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, over an anti-vaccine rant he published on an Ohio news site. Neides has since apologized for the column. Meanwhile, a review of his career and published work offers a more nuanced picture of his views and motivations — he’s well-regarded among his patients, but also turns to therapies of questionable efficacy in treating them. After the flap over his column, STAT reported Tuesday that the clinic would be reevaluating some of the institute’s offerings.

Here are four things to keep in mind about the 50-year-old family doctor at the center of this media firestorm:

He’s a passionate advocate for preventive health care.

Neides told this reporter during an interview last year that promoting healthier habits — such as eating nutritious foods, exercising, and reducing stress — is crucial to reversing rising rates of chronic disease and an epidemic of health care spending. That is not a controversial view among US providers.

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“Our mission here is to be the leader in the country in terms of wellness and chronic disease reversal,” Neides said of his work at the clinic’s Wellness Institute, adding that the US is heading into “dangerous waters” because of its failure to address the unhealthy lifestyles of so many of its citizens. He has also lobbied in favor of increasing tobacco taxes and sharply criticized the marketing of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation technique.

Neides often pitches therapies focused more on metaphysics than science.

In a 2015 column, he expressed pride that the clinic’s Wellness Institute had opened the “first-ever Chinese herbal clinic” at a major health provider. He touted the benefits of herbal therapy in treating everything from heartburn to nerve pain. “You might imagine how rewarding it is for me, a champion of wellness, to see Eastern medicine truly complementing my Western remedies,” he wrote.

In another article, he promoted the clinic’s TRIM-LIFE “weight release” program, which uses a combination of yoga, hypnosis, and mindfulness techniques to help patients “release” weight, as opposed to losing it through diet and exercise. Neides wrote that he participated in the program himself. “Hypnotherapy can help shrink one’s stomach to its normal size by making people feel satisfied with smaller portions,” he wrote. “It helps eliminate the desire for foods that poison our body.” 

Some patients do benefit from such therapies, although they do not have the scientific backing that informs medical decision-making in most clinical disciplines, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the vaccination education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

He helped the Cleveland Clinic launch its own food branding.

The clinic’s “Go Well” labeling can be found in supermarkets and restaurants across Northeast Ohio. Neides has helped to promote the brand, which is used by retailers to advertise healthy food options. The clinic gets a percentage of the sales of such products, which range from breads made with probiotics to organic salad dressings. 

He told me the brand — for which the clinic was seeking a patent — could be a crucial guide for consumers. “If we don’t turn the ship around … the health care system will bankrupt the country,” he said, noting that the nation’s $3 trillion tab for medical spending is crowding out other priorities.   

Neides has a top rating in patient satisfaction surveys.

In independent survey results published on the clinic’s website, Neides is given the highest, five-star rating. The ratings for Neides show that patients gave him five stars for courtesy, listening skills, and time spent with patients. In an accompanying video, Neides explained the philosophy he has employed over 20 years as a primary care provider. “The biggest thing I try to do with patients is to partner” with them, he said in the video. “The idea of a paternalistic relationship where the doctor basically pontificates his or her medical knowledge and tells the patient what they need to do — those days are way behind us.”  

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