Your Medical Chart Could Include Exercise MinutesPosted: January 10, 2013
CHICAGO — Roll up a sleeve for the blood pressure cuff. Stick out a wrist for the pulse-taking. Lift your tongue for the thermometer. Report how many minutes you are active or getting exercise.
If the last item isn’t part of the usual drill at your doctor’s office, a movement is afoot to change that. One recent national survey indicated only a third of Americans said their doctors asked about or prescribed physical activity.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health insurance plans, made a big push a few years ago to get its southern California doctors to ask patients about exercise. Since then, Kaiser has expanded the program across California and to several other states. Now almost 9 million patients are asked at every visit, and some other medical systems are doing it, too.
Here’s how it works: During any routine check of vital signs, a nurse or medical assistant asks how many days a week the patient exercises and for how long. The number of minutes per week is posted along with other vitals at the top the medical chart. So it’s among the first things the doctor sees.
“All we ask our physicians to do is to make a comment on it, like, `Hey, good job,’ or `I noticed today that your blood pressure is too high and you’re not doing any exercise. There’s a connection there. We really need to start you walking 30 minutes a day,'” said Dr. Robert Sallis, a Kaiser family doctor. He hatched the vital sign idea as part of a larger initiative by doctors groups.
He said Kaiser doctors generally prescribe exercise first, instead of medication, and for many patients who follow through that’s often all it takes.
It’s a challenge to make progress. A study looking at the first year of Kaiser’s effort showed more than a third of patients said they never exercise.
Sallis said some patients may not be aware that research shows physical inactivity is riskier than high blood pressure, obesity and other health risks people know they should avoid. As recently as November a government-led study concluded that people who routinely exercise live longer than others, even if they’re overweight.
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