Lessons Learned from ParkRx Programs Nationwide

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If you haven’t heard already, this coming Sunday is the third annual National ParkRx Day. Here at the Institute, we are celebrating the growing Park Prescription movement of prescribing time outside to improve health and well-being. The Institute has been working to promote Park Prescription programs since 2010, and we are inspired and proud to be a part of the rapid growth of this concept, nationwide.

For a quick refresher, Park Prescription programs are collaboratively created among healthcare providers, public land agencies, and community partners with the goal of improving health through time spent outdoors. While these programs can be as diverse as the communities for which they are designed, often, they include some type of referral or “push” from a healthcare or social service provider and “pull” from a park system that connects participating individuals with local outdoor activities.

When the Institute launched ParkRx.org in 2016, the website featured case studies from eight different Park Prescription programs. Just two years later, we are excited to announce the addition of 11 new case studies. These case studies highlight diverse programs from across the country and are intended to serve as a resource for those interested in starting their own Park Prescription program.

As you peruse these case studies, keep an eye out for the many ways Park Prescription programs can be designed and implemented. Here are some things to think about:

Who is leading the Park Prescription program? Many of the more established programs seem to be led by parks, and many of the emerging programs are coming from healthcare organizations. In either case, a Park Prescription program requires collaboration and commitment from all partners involved. Where is the energy coming from within your partnerships?

What is the “push and pull” a patient or client receives when referred to a Park Prescription program? Some programs have stronger “pushes” from the healthcare or social service provider, sometimes incorporating a patient navigator or health educator to follow-up directly with the patient. Other programs have stronger “pulls” from the park system with special introductory programs, user-friendly websites of local trails and parks, and even incentives for completing a goal.

How is the patient prescribed time outdoors? The prescription mechanism can be formal, where a patient receives a personalized push and ideally the written prescription is tracked within the electronic health records for follow-up. The prescription mechanism can also be informal, where a person may receive a handout of local outdoor activities or a link to a park resource website, but the prescription isn’t tracked and the programs prescribed aren’t usually tailored to the patient’s interests.

What outdoor activities are being prescribed? Is it a self-guided hike to get families connected to their local parks and open spaces? Or is it identifying a local walking club for safety and peer accountability? Maybe it’s finding a local playground for kids or a senior outdoor yoga class to get people outside instead of staying cooped-up indoors. Even a family nature walk paired with naturalists and free lunch can be an eventful outdoor activity. In some cases, volunteering in the park is the way to get people to go outside and give back to their community with a sense of purpose.

Gathering these case studies and creating a nationwide directory of Park Prescription programs are just a few first steps as we build ParkRx.org into the leading hub of information on Park Prescription programs and develop it as a space for knowledge sharing in the practitioner community. Our goal is to ensure that ParkRx.org is home to the best tools and resources to help others develop and strengthen their own programs. If you have a relevant Park Prescription case study, tool, resource, or media article to share, we encourage you to submit that information here.

Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more and sharing your ideas on the future of parkrx.org, please join us for our first community-wide ParkRx call on May 8, 1 p.m. EDT/ 10 a.m. PDT, by visiting GoToMeeting on the date of the call and dialing into the conference line: (605) 468-8015, PIN:297788#

We look forward to hearing from you on our community-wide call!

Betty Sun

Program Manager