Behind the Scenes in the O.R. With Dr. Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz is on a mission to reduce the need for open heart surgery.

ByABC News
August 24, 2009, 10:13 AM

Aug. 25, 2009— -- Dr. Mehmet Oz calls the operating room where he performs 300 heart surgeries each year "the temple," but says he wishes he spent a lot less time there.

Oz is on a mission to inspire Americans to get healthy so he never needs to treat them.

Oz gave Diane Sawyer a rare look inside the operating room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center to see just what happens during open heart surgery.

"In every case, every single operation, there is one moment where the patient could die," he said. "I don't remember ever in my whole life not having that be part of an operation. It's not that I think it's going to happen, but I realize if I go left rather than go right, we'll have a catastrophe."

For surgeons, the preparation starts before they make a single cut, when they're scrubbing in.

"The ritual starts off with the fingernails," Oz said. "I only point this out because there's a lot of superstition in surgery. The good surgeons would spend the time meditating about what they're about to do, actually going through it in their mind. So when you're in there and everyone's wondering what you're going to do next, you've already thought about it three times while you were scrubbing."

Oz, who treats patients with the highest-tech heart surgery and care, knows 70 percent of his patients could have lived differently and never had to be lying on his table. And that's why he says he doesn't favor one health care plan over another.

"The big debate right now in Washington is health care finance," he said. "It's how are you going to pay for it. I don't care which program we pick. I'll tell you why. Because none of them are going to work."

Oz says the health care plans are all doomed unless Americans create a new way of thinking about health.

He says there have to be incentives for healthy behavior at the workplace, in families, with our children, with each other and points out that Americans have, on average, twice as much chronic disease than Europeans.

"What we haven't done is get to the very root reality of the flaws we have in the health care system," he said. "True health care reform cannot happen in Washington. It has to happen in our kitchens, in our homes, in our communities. All health care is personal."

And it also complicated.

"I don't think the solution is as simple as saying, 'walk 30 minutes a day,'" he said. "The solution is much more profound than me barking out orders about how much you have to exercise."