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Park Rx: A New Resource for Population Health

When seeking social determinant solutions, providers can look to their prescription pad.

Using non-pharmaceutical prescriptions — sometimes referred to as “social prescribing” — to direct patients to community resources is an easy way to support medical care plans and promote population health. For example, prescribing access to food pantries has become a widespread intervention for food insecurity adopted by many essential hospitals — including Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. And programs like Boston Medical Center’s Prescribe-a-Bike use prescriptions to connect patients with affordable transportation.

Now, essential hospitals can turn to a new resource for prescribing physical activity and time outdoors: Park Rx, or Park Prescriptions, a national program led by the National Recreation and Park Association, the Institute at the Golden Gate, and the National Park Service.

Park Rx seeks to improve individual and community health, encourage behavior change through more time spent outdoors, and foster new stewards and advocates for public lands. Since launching in 2012, eight state and local programs have been initiated.

Spending time in parks and green spaces has been proved to benefit mental health and reduce the burden of chronic disease. It also fosters social connections, which has proven health benefits. Further, investments in community parks and increasing green space reduces crime and violence, increases property values, and minimizes air pollution.

Like other population health initiatives, Park Rx is more than just a clinical intervention. Successful Park Rx programs build community collaborations. For example, Prescription Trails in New Mexico includes partners representing health care, parks, local authorities, community-based organizations, national associations, and academic institutions. Additionally, many Park Rx programs provide publicly available online databases of local parks or fitness centers, complete with pictures and site features.

A master toolkit for establishing local Park Rx programs is under development, but providers need not wait for the toolkit’s release: there is an easy way to use Park Rx prescription pads available online. To learn more about the program, essential hospitals can access a number of resources online, including a series of webinars showcasing successful Park Rx programs.

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About the Author

Janelle Schrag is a senior program analyst with America's Essential Hospitals.

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