Change Society, Make them Healthy!

As the current changes take place in the healthcare system, the Science of Medicine and the Art of Healing, rings true and our profession must take a stand by participating in the role of “wellness professionals”. We must strive to corner the market in this arena and present our level of expertise as we position ourselves for the future of healthcare. We have all the tools necessary and we need to put them into practice by being the conductors of healthy lifestyles in society.

At the World Economic Forum this year, the focus was on a new and rather upbeat topic:  the need for countries to invest in health to achieve long-term economic growth. “The time is right to elevate the conversation on health,” said Robert Greenhill, the managing director and chief business office of the forum.  “This year, there is a sense that the global economy is out of intensive care and embarking on rehabilitation. As we ask how, metaphorically, to improve the economy’s health, literally improving the population’s health is a good place to start.”

What an inspiring statement and a good choice of words to show our world is embarking on rehabilitation; this is an excellent segway for Physical Therapy to take the ball and roll with it!  It appears as a challenge for physical therapists to capitalize on this opportunity. We have heard a great deal about incorporating wellness into our profession and our vision for the last few years but I am uncertain we know how to put this into practice. We have the knowledge regarding exercise and fitness, but are we incorporating lifetime wellness into our discharge plans and daily practice of physical therapy? Everyone comprehends the benefit of transitional programs upon discharge from skilled physical therapy; personal training, performance enhancement, group fitness and small group training. Whether or not we choose to personally engage in these entities, we possess the knowledge to assist our patients and direct them to utilize or locate these programs as necessary. I view our role as therapists to ascertain whether or not our patients need the additional expertise, guidance or support to follow through with our directions and home program upon discharge.

In addition to the referrals as, appropriate, to the programs listed above, are we preparing our patients on a very basic level for lifetime wellness and exercise? Beyond the diagnoses for which they sought our care, are we educating them in healthy behaviors and fabricating plans for this in our discharge goals? We are in the perfect position to serve as role models to discuss weight loss principles for our OA patient. If our patient leads a sedentary lifestyle, there is a huge opportunity to share the research on inactivity and encourage them to step away from the chair. We can present the evidence between sitting time and premature mortality rates. I think we all realize individuals may be averse to exercise, however educating them on the benefit of how simply standing an extra 1-2 hours per day can burn enough calories to lose between 5-10# over a year’s time.

Prevention is a key in overall health, so do we appropriately discuss osteoporosis indicators for the patient population we treat that falls into this strata? Do we report the NIH recommendations for exercise as a way to keep our patients exercising upon discharge? Lastly, do we as a profession take responsibility for societal or global health? I have taken it upon myself to frequently write letters to MD’s to encourage referral of their patients for exercise, walking programs or strength training when they diagnosis them with chronic diseases, such as CAD, Diabetes, OA, Parkinsons, MS and Osteoporosis. Many times a MD will tell their patient to become more active but that individual may not comprehend how to take the next step. Our profession can assist with this task. We can also market the consumer for direct access to our services by informing the public of our skill set.

As a doctoring profession, we have all the tools and education to lead our consumers to a healthier lifestyle, however we need to ask ourselves how and when we are willing to use them. Each of us can play a major role in educating our patients to behavioral changes to promote wellness. Preventing disease as opposed to merely treating it must become an even greater priority. In this manner, we can all support our APTA Brand-Move Forward; Physical Therapy Brings Motion to Life!

Jean Darling PT, LAT is an Impact editorial board member and Vice President of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. She can be reached at