Time to Visit the Doctor

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I sat in a doctor’s waiting room for a long time today. I had accidentally left my book at home, and none of the magazines lying around appealed to me. As I’m currently attempting to renegotiate my relationship with my smartphone (I feel like I need some space but it’s having trouble letting go), I kept the thing tucked firmly in my jacket pocket, and there was nothing to occupy my attention except for a large monitor in the corner that kept cycling through a handful of health-related messages: avoid stress, substitute walnuts for croutons, exercise regularly.

“Ha,” thought the crankier part of me. “How am I supposed to find time to exercise regularly when I’m stuck here in the doctor’s office for three hundred hours?” (Well, it felt like three hundred hours.) But that got the less cranky part of me thinking. What if my doctor’s office helped me exercise regularly — not just by reminding me to do so, but by providing me with concrete incentives for doing so? What if they gave me five dollars off my co-pay if I brought in a form from my personal trainer, or yoga instructor, or gym manager that showed I’d worked out three times a week for the past month? What if, along with my prescription, the doctor’s assistant also handed me a certificate good for one free class at a local Zumba studio or a free session at the gym? What if I was offered a discount on a gym membership if I lower my cholesterol between this visit to the doctor and the next?

In short, I realized, health providers are natural partners for fitness centers and health clubs. They have the authority to convince people to get to the gym, combined with the opportunity to pass along incentives for doing so. Maybe it’s time to start cultivating relationships with doctors’ offices, to approach local ones with an offer they can’t refuse: a way to really encourage their patients to improve their health (because, to be honest, that monitor wasn’t very effective. I tuned out its messages well before my wait was over. Good thing I had my smartphone with me).

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