Over the past few years, park prescription programs have become an increasingly popular way to encourage people to get up and active in their local parks. In North Carolina, we've seen some of our park and recreation departments register with ParkRx America. ParkRx America allows healthcare professionals to prescribe physical activity in registered parks to their patients. For this month's wellness blog we talk to Jodi Rich, Public Relations Specialist with New Hanover County Parks & Gardens about New Hanover County's experience with ParkRx America.
1. How did you first learn of ParkRx America?
I read about the Park Rx movement a few years ago through an article in an NRPA newsletter. In doing some research on the internet, I found the Park Rx America site. Also, Dr. Robert Zarr, the founder of Park Rx America, has been featured in some national news stories.
2. How has the process of adding New Hanover County Parks and Garden sites to ParkRx America been?
Adding park sites to Park Rx America has been fairly quick and easy. There is a short form on the website to fill out to request an account. Once you receive login credentials, you have access to enter your parks through an easy-to-use online interface. Just enter the park name, address and contact information, upload a couple of photos, complete a series of checkboxes, and you’re done. The system automatically generates a printable PDF of park information and amenities that can be viewed from the searchable online map.
3. What is your favorite part about the ParkRx America website?
My favorite part of the website is the “prescribe” feature. They have made a simple process for healthcare providers to generate a prescription through the website. Once the prescription is created, it is texted or emailed to the patient. It can even be set to automatically send the patient reminders to exercise. The physician can then copy and paste the prescription into their Electronic Medical Record system just like a regular prescription, which makes follow-up easier.
4. What are some ways that you market and promote your sites for ParkRx?
We created a ParkRx webpage on our department website - Parks.NHCgov.com/ParkRx. It has information on the exercise opportunities in our parks, a form for people to sign up for the program, and a searchable park map. We also created a Park Rx brochure that explains the benefits of outdoor exercise, as well as the exercise opportunities available in the parks. Since the majority of our programs and activities are beneficial to a participant’s physical and mental well-being in some way, we tie them into ParkRx. For example, our environmental educators were planning a guided nature walk, so we called it “Park Rx Nature Walk,” and spent some time at the beginning of the program explaining the health benefits of walking in the preserve.
5. Have you had any luck in communicating with health care providers about ParkRx? What tactics would you suggest?
So far, we have introduced Park Rx to New Hanover County’s internal employee health clinic, and the Health Department’s public health clinic. Both have been very receptive. Our goal is to test the program with these two entities, gather some data and successes, then roll it out to the larger healthcare community including the hospital and local medical groups.
I would suggest starting out slowly. If your city or county has an internal health clinic, that would be a good place to start. Chances are, you probably already have connections there, and can easily get a meeting with them. They are also great to bounce ideas off of and get their feedback and suggestions on the program. When it’s time to roll the program out to the greater community, be strategic about potential partners. Do some research on local practices that are doing innovative work, or are already participating in community programs such as “Walk With a Doc,” etc. You could also meet healthcare providers at health fairs, and by joining health and wellness-focused community groups that have similar goals and objectives.
6. How would you like to see the ParkRx movement be embraced throughout your community in the next few years?
I would love to see public parks become a natural part of the conversation around community healthcare. When a healthcare provider sees a patient at risk for obesity or chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, I would like them to think of parks as part of the solution. And, not just medical doctors- parks can be a great outlet for clients of social workers who may be in need of stress relief, or for substance abuse counselors working to help find solutions to keep people off of drugs. There are so many different ways parks can benefit the health of a community, and I would like to see more of these partnerships formed between parks, healthcare providers, and other community groups.
Jodi Rich is the Public Relations Specialist for New Hanover County Parks & Gardens. She has been with the county since 2012, and is responsible for the department’s communications, programs, and special events. Jodi holds a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education & Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.