In July, Jefferson University Hospital spine surgeon Alexander Vaccaro threw in his contribution to Philly.com's One Great Idea initiative - a medical town hall meeting, where Philadelphians can ask a panel of doctors anything, cost- and appointment-free.
His idea became a reality Thursday, when Vaccaro and three other doctors tackled questions from 30 people for an hour and a half in a brightly colored room of North Philadelphia's YouthBuild charter school.
The intimate event gave Vaccaro, also vice chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at the Rothman Institute, a snapshot of the health issues Philadelphians care about: obesity, diet, high blood pressure, their children's well-being, and teen pregnancy.
The panel included Jefferson internist Adam Sobel, pediatrician Daniel Taylor of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, and Temple University Hospital vascular surgeon Eric Choi.
Vaccaro acted as moderator and sped the discussion along with his own questions, such as "What should we be feeding our kids?"; from age 20 to 40, "I never went to a doctor - is that stupid?"; and "Should we drink red wine?"
Raven Callahan, 29, of North Philadelphia, goes to see her doctor often and wanted to get some outside advice about the best diet plan to quickly lose weight. She recently started exercising and lost 12 pounds, but finds it difficult to eat healthy.
Taylor emphasized the importance of eating a healthy breakfast, such as a slice of wheat toast, to start the day, and said to forgo the sausage and eggs. "But that's the stuff we like!" exclaimed Callahan, a self-proclaimed "junk-food junkie." Others laughed and agreed.
Sobel chimed in that it's even more important to eat less: "Portion control is the number-one thing we can do."
Vascular surgeon Choi raised the related issue of obesity in kids, and the rise he has seen in the development of Type 2 diabetes among the young - even leading to amputations.
Taylor added: "It's all because of obesity, not going outside enough, not turning off the screens."
Taylor is no stranger to community outreach, having established the Children's Advocacy Project, or www.CAP4Kids.org, a website to help families find local resources such as after-school programs and tutors.
"About 80 percent of medical problems are social in origin: decision-making, smoking, stress, lack of education," Taylor said, which drives him to work as hard on the social aspect.
The doctors' interplay gave audience members instant second, or even third, opinions. For instance, is red wine really good for you? "It can be beneficial with heart disease specifically," Choi said, warning against overdoing it. "It's not a linear thing where you take more and the better you are."
But Sobel reminded the audience that alcohol can have an abundance of calories, and drinking a glass of wine or beer is "almost like having a sugary soda."
Another topic was how often patients should come in for routine checkups. Choi cited some recently published studies showing that frequent checkups have no effect on mortality rates.
Taylor wholeheartedly disagreed, at least concerning children: "Going to your pediatrician for routine health-maintenance visits is one of the most important things you can do for your child."
For the next meeting - planned for sometime after Christmas - Vaccaro will cover three main areas: pediatrics, general health, and mental health.
The typical person - he cites his own mother - can have trouble navigating the medical system, and as a medical professional who does understand it, he wants to help.
"There are so many people that don't know where to start, and so we have to give back, especially to the people without resources," Vaccaro said.