Lots of doctors recommend exercise--advice that often falls on deaf ears--but Raleigh, N.C., physician Ben Fischer is one of the very few who works out right alongside his patients.
As part of a hands-on approach to helping patients with "lifestyle diseases" such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, Fisher started the program at Raleigh Medical Group three years ago, News & Observer reported.
About 65 people so far have signed on for a three-month session of weekly workouts and health seminars at the local YMCA, which donates the meeting space and waives membership fees for patients in the program, according to the newspaper. Fisher's weekly supervised exercise sessions with patients are billed like regular office visits, but patients are encouraged to utilize the gym for additional independent workouts throughout the week.
Although some of Fisher's colleagues have expressed skepticism about his approach, Elaine Ellis Stone, communications director for the North Carolina Medical Society, acknowledged the significance of preventive care in controlling costs in the era of healthcare reform.
"The medical community is very serious about encouraging patients to take responsibility for their health through exercise and eating right," she said. "If we don't take care of ourselves, we're at risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease--and all that costs the health care system more money."
And the extra help some patients need to embrace this responsibility doesn't necessarily have to come from a physician or a medical professional at all, if a recent story from the Los Angeles Times is any indication.
For example, Calvin Woodard, a nonclinician who drives a van transporting patients for free to appointments at To Help Everyone (T.H.E.) Clinic, serves a critical role in keeping patients not only physically attending appointments but also staying mentally engaged in their health, according to the LA Times.
In this role, Woodward serves as the patients' unofficial counselor. He reminds them about scheduled visits, rouses them out of bed with a friendly phone call and even urges resistant patients to get needed tests and vaccinations, the newspaper noted.
"He has a rapport sometimes that we can't have," said Sharon Leffall, a nurse practitioner and the director of clinical services.