Health Care

What’s Your Role?

Health Care

Health Care Icon

What’s Your Role?

Health Care

Health Care Icon

As a person working in health care, you can help your patients, employees, and community access the immediate and long-term benefits of physical activity.

Most US adults report visiting a health care professional at least once during the year. These encounters give health care organizations and professionals a unique opportunity to promote physical activity with their patients.

Health care professionals can assess and advise patients on the many benefits of physical activity, how much physical activity they need to receive health benefits, and how to do it safely. They can also help connect their patients to community-based physical activity programs and resources.

As employers, health care systems can provide their employees with individual and social supports for physical activity.

Health care systems may also be anchor institutions: governmental or nonprofit entities with a significant and stable presence. Their influence in the community can facilitate partnerships with other anchor institutions (e.g., universities, financial institutions, faith-based organizations, and arts and culture organizations) and with other sectors (e.g., public health, transportation, land use and community design, and parks, recreation, and greenspaces). These partnerships can improve community design by creating safe and equitable access to places for walking, biking, and other forms of physical activity for their patients, employees, and other community residents.

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Tax-exempt hospitals can fulfill their Internal Revenue Service obligation to provide community benefit through activities such as coalition building, leadership development, and neighborhood revitalization. They can also meet the requirement by supporting policies and programs related to public health, housing, and transportation to increase physical activity. In addition to delivering community benefit, these investments can improve the health, quality of life, and overall prosperity of communities.

What Can You Do?

You can use the following strategies to encourage physical activity with your patients and in your community:

Educate people about the benefits of physical activity and implement or refer your patients to resources that can help them increase their activity levels:

  • Establish physical activity as a key health indicator tracked by health systems and electronic health records.
  • Offer physical activity counseling to patients who need it (e.g., those at risk for cardiovascular disease).
  • Develop community-clinical links that help health care professionals refer patients to community resources and programs that provide safe opportunities for physical activity. Examples of programs include:
Want more proven ways to increase physical activity?

Active People, Healthy NationSM has many strategies that work. Visit the website to find options that fit your needs. Look for ways to collaborate with other sectors.

Promote the design of community spaces that support safe and easy access for everyone to be physically active, regardless of age, income, ability, or race and ethnicity.

  • Create or join cross-sectoral partnerships to help improve community designs and ensure that development decisions benefit residents equitably.
  • Support safe, efficient, and easy-to-use public transit systems and equitable transit-oriented development.
  • Support transportation policies and plans to create safe streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks that encourage physical activity.
  • Support community planning, land use, development, and zoning policies and plans that encourage walking and other forms of physical activity. One example is building affordable housing close other essential destinations such as jobs and health care.

Educate health professionals on how to promote walking, walkability, and other forms of physical activity.

  • Include information on physical activity and behavioral counseling in training, continuing education, and accreditation processes for health care professionals.
  • Tell health professionals about community social support programs for physical activity, such as Walk with a Doc.
Healthcare worker helping an elderly lady

What Others Are Doing

These health care organizations and professionals are using effective strategies to increase physical activity in their communities.

Healthy by Design Coalition in Montana
The Healthy by Design Coalition, a group sponsored by three health care providers in Yellowstone County, is working across sectors to improve physical activity, nutrition, and healthy weight. They were strong supporters of a Complete Street policy for the city of Billings, which was passed by the City Council in 2011. The group continues to focus on ways to promote active transportation in their community, such as supporting their clinics to become bicycle-friendly.

Trail Prescriptions in Pennsylvania
Hospitals in the Philadelphia region encourage physical activity through organized trail walks. Physicians can prescribe a trail to patients and lead walks on trails in the area. During the walk, physicians and other health educators offer brief presentations and answer questions about health topics such as nutrition and sleep. Participants also get social support from fellow walkers.

Walkable Health and Wellness District Development in Connecticut [PDF-4.63MB]
A partnership between Stamford Hospital and the Stamford Housing Authority led to the development of a wellness district. What started as a land swap to help expand the hospital and create new housing turned into a lasting collaboration. After a community health needs assessment found the greatest needs in areas right next to the hospital campus, Stamford formed a coalition with 12 local youth, health, education, and human services organizations. Their collaboration has helped increase walkability, community safety, and access to health care and healthy food.

Resources to Help You

  • Creating Effective Hospital-Community Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health [PDF-1.58MB]
    This guide describes how hospitals and health care systems can create effective community partnerships, align efforts with other organizations, and optimize financial resources to help increase community health and well-being.
  • Health Care Providers’ Action Guide [PDF-781KB]
    This is a guide for doctors and other health care providers on how to best “prescribe” physical activity to patients to help them prevent, treat, and manage chronic health conditions. Screening guides and patient handouts are included.
  • National Physical Activity Plan: Healthcare Sector [PDF-9.39MB]
    The National Physical Activity Plan provides policy and programmatic recommendations to increase physical activity. It includes strategies and tactics that communities, organizations, and individuals in the healthcare sector can use to support physically active lifestyles.
  • Park Prescription Program Toolkit
    This interactive, step-by-step guide is for agencies, health professionals, or communities interested in starting their own Park Prescription program. Sample meeting agendas, worksheets, training videos, case examples, and promotional resources are included.
  • The Challenge of Reimbursement-Coding and Billing Tips [PDF-64KB]
    This resource includes tips and lists of ICD10 and CPT codes for health care professionals to use when assessing, prescribing, and counseling patients about physical activity during office visits.
  • Walk with a Doc Tools
    This website has a portal with tools and resources for doctors to start their own Walk with a Doc program and for community members to find or start a program. During a typical walk, doctors give a brief presentation on a health topic and then lead participants on a walk at their own pace to facilitate discussion. The website includes information on marketing, health topics, and resources provided by “headquarters,” including a starter kit and liability insurance.
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