Roughly 84 million Americans are living with heart disease, and more than half of patients who are hospitalized with heart failure are readmitted within six months, leading to over $17 billon in related Medicare costs.
Empowering patients to take ownership of their health via exercise and a balanced diet has the potential to reduce hospital readmissions and health care costs. The Walk with a Doc program is one way many physicians are partnering with their patients in this area.
How it works
David Sabgir, MD, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio, started Walk with a Doc in 2005 after he became frustrated when conversations with patients about the importance of exercise in preventing and reducing heart disease were not yielding results. Over the following years, the program’s Saturday morning walks throughout the nation have gotten over 100,000 patients and their physicians exercising together.
“We all have so many excuses not to exercise, but I needed to do something,” says Dr. Sabgir.
The Walk with a Doc program has grown significantly over the last decade: There are now 300 chapters in 44 states. Physicians and medical students lead walks on Saturday mornings between one and four times a month. Chapters meet up in parks and, in colder climates, at malls.
Walk with a Doc Saturdays typically start with a Q&A session over fruit and coffee before participants head out for a walk that allows patients to travel their own distance at their own pace.
Improving the patient-physician relationship
“Patients are used to copays and limited time in the office, so they are very grateful their physician is volunteering time,” says Dr. Sabgir. “This additional layer of patient-physician communication allows patients to ask their physician specific questions about things like lab work or referrals. That’s a big deal because it can help save on hospital readmission costs.”
Also, burned-out physicians may find relief by inspiring patients to take better care of themselves, Dr. Sabgir notes.
“Every single minute, every single smile, comment and pat on the back remind us why we went into medicine,” he says. “These are friendships that the health care provider cherishes. They go a long way in preventing burnout. I don’t feel like I’m working near as much. I feel like I’m living.”
Physicians and medical students who are interested in joining or starting a Walk with a Doc chapter pay a nominal fee for liability insurance, a website to share information about the walk, and a toolkit with talking points and marketing materials, including T-shirts and banners.
Juan Querubin, OMS III, of Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM), the first osteopathic medical school to host a Walk with a Doc program, says community involvement initiatives like Walk with a Doc are especially important in medically underserved areas.
“It’s a great way to spend more time with people in the community and to recognize how real-life considerations affect medical conditions,” says Querubin. “Much of student doctors’ exposure to patients are in the clinical setting, and this is a great way to detect barriers to health care access and local determinants of health.”
Osteopathic students and physicians across the country participate, including the lead physician of LMU-DCOM’s chapter, Allison Yow, DO, who Querubin says was back on her feet walking with patients just nine days after a C-section.
“It’s fair to say she’s very committed to our mission,” he says.
The retention rate of Walk with a Doc’s participating physicians is above 80%, which Dr. Sabgir says is an indicator of physician and patient satisfaction with the program.
To learn more and see if there is a chapter in your area, visit the Walk with a Doc website.