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FirstHealth’s Exercise is Medicine program emphasizes medical importance of physical activity

| Date Posted: 8/31/2010

Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is Medicine participant Jerry Stremick (seated) consults with his physician, Philip Mondi, M.D., about the FirstHealth program that encourages health care providers to make exercise a part of their regular patient treatment plans and patients to use exercise in an effort to become more involved in their own health.

PINEHURST – Jerry Stremick had packed on a few extra pounds and felt like he needed to shed some weight.

“The object was to lose about 20 pounds or so,” the 68-year-old Stremick says. “It was fine when I was 200 pounds and playing football in college.”

Stremick took his concerns about his weight to his physician, Philip Mondi, M.D., of Pinehurst Medical Clinic, who gave him a medical referral to the new Exercise is Medicine program at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst.

“It’s been good,” Stremick says about the program. “It’s been working well, and I’m pleased with it. I’m not ready to make the Senior Tour, but it’s been good. I’ve enjoyed it. ”

Exercise is Medicine (EIM) is a health care call to action launched by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association that encourages health care providers to make exercise a part of their regular patient treatment plans. Ideally, according to Darrell Simpkins, M.D., participating physicians will begin to regard physical activity as a vital sign – just as they would weight, blood pressure and temperature – and encourage their patients to use exercise to become more involved in improving their own health.

“This is a tremendous program to link exercise, patients and their doctors,” says Dr. Simpkins, an emergency department physician and medical director for the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness. “Almost everybody is interested in results and statistics, and lots of patients like to please their doctor. This is a way the doctor can say, ‘I’d like you to go to the fitness center,’ and there’s a program available to help them.”

After discussing physical activity needs with their patients, participating doctors refer them to the Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst for another part of the EIM program, a professional – and free – exercise assessment and treatment plan developed by a trained exercise technologist.

“Our program builds on the EIM initiative by giving participating physicians a referral pathway and the tools to make appropriate referrals to FirstHealth’s qualified exercise professionals,” says John Caliri, director of the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness. “The referral gives the patient access to a no-cost physical fitness assessment, goal-setting and an actual activity program that’s suited to their specific needs. Participation in the program also includes communication back to the physician so he, or she, can assist patients in effectively using exercise as a prevention or treatment method for attaining or maintaining health.”

There are four steps to FirstHealth’s EIM program:

  • Step 1: At every office visit, the physician measures the patient’s physical activity as a vital sign.
  • Step 2: If appropriate, the physician refers the patient to the Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst for a health assessment, consultation and program development. There is no charge to the patient for this service.
  • Step 3: A Health & Fitness exercise technologist meets with the referred patient for the health assessment and to create a personalized exercise program that the patient can perform in the environment of his/her choice (i.e., park, gym, home). The patient receives a two-week membership to the Center for Health & Fitness of his/her choice and, as appropriate, is referred to other health services. (Patients are under no obligation to join the Center for Health & Fitness.)
  • Step 4: The Health & Fitness staff communicates with the referring physician about the participant’s screening results, participation and progress.

Anyone, age 16 and up, who needs to start an exercise program to improve their health can participate in the EIM program as long as they have a physician’s referral – even those dealing with a chronic illness such as hypertension or diabetes or even cancer or heart disease.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Dr. Simpkins. “The medical aspect of this is super.”

Although participants can exercise wherever they please, the EIM assessments and treatment plans are offered only at the Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst because of the availability of the high-tech Technogym Wellness System technology used to record patient data. (See the accompanying sidebar.)

Caliri says FirstHealth’s EIM program is unique because it focuses on the needs and requirements of patients and physicians and makes it so easy for anyone to participate.

“Medical fitness centers, such as the Pinehurst center, are uniquely positioned to assist physicians and patients in making the vision of EIM a reality,” he says. “Our program employs exercise professionals with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and nationally accredited certifications who have tremendous experience with clients with all levels of exercise experience and many types of limitations. Our program’s goal is to remove as many barriers as possible to help patients begin and continue a lifestyle that includes activity. It gives patients the opportunity to take responsibility for their own health and the expertise to help manage that responsibility.”

Once EIM participants get their exercise plan, they are free to perform it anywhere they choose – at home, in a neighborhood park, in a community gym or at a retail membership program. Although there is no requirement to join a FirstHealth fitness center, those who do get a month’s free membership and are held accountable with more frequent progress checks and program modifications from their exercise technologist.

According to EIM coordinator Kari Garbark, a considerable number of area physicians, including heart specialists and neurologists as well primary care providers, have eagerly embraced the EIM program. “Many different specialties are recognizing the importance of exercise and how it can impact their patients,” she says.

Dr. Mondi, Jerry Stremick’s doctor, started referring patients to the EIM program through a pre-launch pilot. A long-time proponent of physical activity, both personally and for his patients, Dr. Mondi describes EIM as an “excellent program” that could be “beneficial to almost everyone,” especially the chronically ill, patients with strength and flexibility issues, and those at risk of falling.

He has been impressed by the level of the treatment plans, which are tailored to each participant’s specific abilities and needs.

“My patients have been very responsive and think this is going to be a great program,” he says. “Once they see what their options are, I think a fair number will ask to be referred. The sky’s the limit.”

If you think you might be interested in a referral to FirstHealth’s Exercise is Medicine program, talk to your primary care provider or call (910) 715-1833.

MRH Foundation funds equipment for EIM program

Ron Schuch knows about the benefits of exercise. He has lost more than 20 pounds, down from 208 to 185, since he began his five-times-a-week exercise regimen at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst in 2003.

As someone who enjoys a good workout, and as a member of the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation Board and its Grants Review Committee, Schuch was particularly interested in a recent Foundation funding request for Technogym Wellness Software for FirstHealth’s new Exercise is Medicine (EIM) program.

“The equipment is really state of the art,” Schuch says. “There are only a few facilities in the country that use this kind of technology.”

While the EIM program encourages a patient and his personal physician to partner in an exercise plan geared toward improving the patient’s health, the Technogym Wellness System provides the technology for ensuring that the patient safely follows his personal “exercise prescription.”

It also stores the information so a program participant and the Health & Fitness staff can follow the participant’s progress and share the information with the referring personal physician.

“The real differentiator for us and our clients is this element of communication,” says John Caliri, director of the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness. “The equipment collects data as a person exercises, and the information is available to the exercise specialist who can then guide the participant in modifying and improving his program. This is an ongoing process, as exercise is most effective when regular change is built into the program.”

Using information collected by the Technogym system, the Health & Fitness staff can develop an exercise program based on the individual’s specific needs and then safely increase activity levels as the participant progresses through the program.

“Physicians know that exercise is effective in preventing or treating 50 or so of the most common chronic diseases and injuries,” Caliri says. “This program, and Technogym’s ability to help us collect, analyze and distribute data, can help us work with the physician to help participants take a more active role in managing their own health.”

The Technogym Wellness System is actually software that can be added to the fitness center’s existing Technogym strength-training equipment and will be on its new Technogym cardiovascular equipment (treadmills, stationary bikes, etc.)

An exercise professional programs the participant’s “exercise prescription” into a Smartkey. The participant then checks in at a Wellness Expert Kiosk to load their workout session for the day and lets the key do the rest.

The software will tell the participant where to begin, and the Smartkey will load the personal settings and provide instructions on each piece of equipment until the prescribed workout is complete. At the end of the work, the participant gets feedback and tracks progress.

Participants can even send messages to or receive messages from their trainer to keep them on track and motivated.

The “most exciting part” of the process, according to Caliri, involves including the participant’s personal physician in the communication loop. “Physicians will have options about how they want to be communicated with, eventually even having the ability to receive updates directly into the patient’s Electronic Medical Record,” Caliri says.

Ron Schuch was on hand for demonstrations of the Technogym system and was so impressed by what he saw that he encouraged the Grants Review Committee to fund the disbursement request of $430,652.

“I think it’s going to be absolutely fantastic, and it will really help the community,” he says of the EIM program. “With obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure being such overpowering problems in our society, I think this program has the potential to be really fantastic and for our fitness center to be a leader (in the medical fitness industry).”

Note: While an Exercise is Medicine participant can choose to follow his “exercise prescription” in the venue of his/her choosing, the Technogym Wellness System is available only to members of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst because of the location of the equipment.

 

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