Learning from soft powerBMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4645 (Published 01 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4645
All rapid responses
The concept of 'soft healing' as outlined in this article does not make sense. To heal is defined as to 'restore to health' healing is 'the process of restoring to health' or 'having therapeutic or curative properties' , Whatever definition of healing you use, public health and prevention measures cannot be defined as forms of healing, rather they are measures taken to prevent development of diseases that will need eventually need to be 'healed'.
The concept of 'soft healing' is much more applicable to the field of complementary medicine which by-and-large is aimed at stimulating and supporting the health-maintaining or self-healing capacities of people and patients. Using 'soft-healing' in this way makes much more sense when juxtaposed with the definition of 'hard-healing' given by the authors.
In their article the authors state 'soft healing strategies complement the healthcare system to reduce population risk, improve health, and minimise the need for inefficient, costly medical treatments' . It has long been argued that such a claim could be staked for complementary medicine.
Complementary medicine/ soft medicine should be considered as the second layer in a three layered approach to health with prevention as the first option and first priority, soft healing/complementary medicine as the second, and 'hard healing' as the third. All three are necessary it's the priority and emphasis that needs to change. As the authors state 'Hard healing continues to dominate health policy and resources' . Far greater emphasis and resources need to be put into primary prevention and we would argue, into 'soft healing' as just re-defined.
Competing interests: No competing interests
Mozaffarian & colleagues propose an interesting concept of “soft healing”, as opposed to “hard healing, which is what goes on in primary care (GP practices) & secondary care (NHS hospitals).
Whilst the authors refer to the limits of “hard power”, they do not mention the shortcomings of “soft power”. In the interests of balance, we think it is important to acknowledge that soft power, whilst admirable and indeed beneficial, does have limitations.
In principle, it is hard to disagree with the concept of soft-healing. However, when one reads the extensive list of examples of soft healing, one struggles to differentiate it from what most British readers would call “public health”. The uncontroversial list of health promotion measures like tobacco & alcohol control, good nutrition, physical exercise & seat belts. These are all fundamentals of public health medicine in our opinion. Many of these measures are already entrenched in UK public health policy, sometimes backed by legislation.
Thus, we agree with the so-called “soft healing” measures, individually & collectively, but we disagree that these common sense public health interventions need to be rebranded.
The only advantage rebranding would have is to create eye-catching headlines. A disadvantage of rebranding is that it would be a distraction from the nitty gritty of developing & implementing the kind of sensible public health measures the authors have cited. In this era of limited and sometimes declining resources, that is a distraction we can ill afford.
 Learning from soft power. Mozaffarian D, Blashek J A, Stavridis J. BMJ 2015;351:h4645
Competing interests: We work for Public Health England but we write in private capacities. The views expressed are our own and not those of our employer(s).