Improving population health through integration of primary care and public health: providing access to physical activity for community health center patients.

Matthew Silva and Lucy M. Candib are with the Family Health Center of Worcester, Worcester MA. Matthew Silva is also with the Department of Pharmacy Practice, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Worcester. Suzanne Cashman and Parag Kunte are with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
American Journal of Public Health (Impact Factor: 4.23). 09/2012; 102(11):e56-61. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300958
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Objectives. Our community health center attempted to meet public health goals for encouraging exercise in adult patients vulnerable to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases by partnering with a local YMCA. Methods. During routine office visits, providers referred individual patients to the YMCA at no cost to the patient. After 2 years, the YMCA instituted a $10 per month patient copay for new and previously engaged health center patients. Results. The copay policy change led to discontinuation of participation at the YMCA by 80% of patients. Patients who persisted at the YMCA increased their visits by 50%; however, more men than women became frequent users after institution of the copay. New users after the copay were also more likely to be younger men. Thus the copay skewed the population toward a younger group of men who exercised more frequently. Instituting a fee appeared to discourage more tentative users, specifically women and older patients who may be less physically active. Conclusions. Free access to exercise facilities (rather than self-paid memberships) may be a more appropriate approach for clinicians to begin engaging inexperienced or uncertain patients in regular fitness activities to improve health.

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