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Doctors in Washington are now prescribing nature to their patients

Washington State Parks has recently partnered with the nationwide non-profit Parks Rx America, in an effort to get Washingtonians who suffer from chronic diseases and mental health issues outdoors. 64 doctors throughout Washington have signed on to the program, and have made writing park prescriptions a part of their practice.

The goal of the Park Rx is to reduce the effects of chronic disease and mental health issues by making it easy for health care providers to prescribe parks and other public lands to their patients as a low-cost part of their healthcare regimen. 

Washington State Parks joined the program as part of its strategic goal to create healthy communities and help get Washingtonians out exercising and enjoying the parks. 

Providers in Oregon have also signed on to the program. An Oregon Parks and Recreation Department study in 2017 found that outdoor recreation saved the state $1.4 billion in health care costs. 

Parks Rx Washington encourages more providers to sign up at their Website, and learn more about how they can start prescribing parks to their patients. This can include anybody in the healthcare profession, including mental health providers, therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists. 

Dr Greg Anderson with Family Care Network in Bellingham said his patients like how a written order helps them take getting outside more seriously, and hold them accountable. 

"It's really not a difficult barrier to breach, say opposed to setting a prescription to a pill, where many patients immediately get their guard up, like what is this going to do to me and how necessary is this?” said Anderson. "There's no such resistance to a park prescription."

Anderson said while the idea of prescribing exercise isn't new, prescribing nature is. 

All the provider has to do is search the patient's zip code on the State Park's Website, find a nearby park for them, and write the prescription. They can also set up reminder texts for the patient. The prescription can say something like, "go to your local park four times a week, walking thirty minutes with your dog."

48 states are a part of the program, and Washington is already number two on the list of most providers signed up. Washington State Parks said they need the providers to participate because they’re the backbone of this program.

Park Rx America is collaborating with academic research centers to study the efficiency of the park prescription model. 


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