How to Achieve Population Health through Community Building

This month on the Strive Labs Blog, we have been discussing population health and the role that healthcare providers can play in our communities by educating and partnering with our neighbors. At Strive Labs, we keep our ear to the ground to stay on top of innovative resources in healthcare. As we wrap up the month, I would like to introduce you to my good friend and New York Times best-selling author, Melissa Hartwig.

Melissa’s writing entertains and educates at the same time – a winning combination. She is authentic (often sharing very personal stories of her struggles with food and drugs in her twenties), she provides information with the necessary tough love to make people examine their beliefs and behaviors, and she comes alongside people to celebrate their successes and support them through their struggles. Think of the opportunities we have as physical therapists to impact lives all day every day in this same way!

She also feels strongly that good information should be available to all who need it – not just those who can afford it. She says,

“We believe that vibrant health and quality of life should be accessible to all, not just those who can afford a personal nutritionist or expensive meal plan. Since day one, the Whole30® program rules and a huge number of resources have been available for free on our website. Our program will always be free, so that we can reach (and help) as many people as possible.”

By providing education and resources, Whole30® has impacted tens of thousands of people and helped them make significant life changes. As Melissa explains, “The Whole30® will change the way you think about food, it will change your tastes, it will change your habits and your cravings. It could, quite possibly, change the emotional relationship you have with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life.”

But what does this have to do with PT?

As PTs, we need to provide a similar level of community, education, and resources around movement that The Whole30® provides around eating. As Mike Eisenhart, PT has said, from a population health standpoint, we know that more than 7 out of every 10 deaths in the United States are due to chronic disease with somewhere between 250-700K of them preventable. Mike also says, "According to the CDC, there are more than a QUARTER MILLION preventable deaths each year in the United States." Healthcare providers such as physical therapists have not only the responsibility to address these issues, but have a great opportunity to affect change in this area. Mike went on to explain that the greatest long-term value for ANY professional who works in healthcare is now more in facilitating HEALTH (best version of ourselves) than it’s ever been and equally now less in “care” (number of procedures a professional might squeeze out in a day) than it’s ever been.

Physical therapists can help communities get moving; yet, we often lack formal education and training in nutrition. When I speak to physical therapists about population health, they often admit that they feel completely unprepared to have discussions around food and eating habits with their patients. The beauty of the Whole30® is in its simplicity. If I could sum it up in four words it would be, “Just eat real food.” It just provides a framework (and a resource) for educating your patients about the difference between foods that make you healthier (protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats) and foods that don’t (processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates).

Remember-- Whole Patients

There are countless reported benefits both physically and psychologically from The Whole30®. Testimonials from thousands of participants document the improvement of any number of diseases and conditions like: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 1 and 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, Celiac disease, joint pain, migraines, and diverticulitis.

As physical therapists, we interact with patients with the above conditions all day, every day. As we move forward with Direct Access in all states, we need to be more comfortable with both screening for general medical issues (taking vital signs at initial evaluation and making recommendations/referrals as appropriate) and providing resources for folks with general medical issues.

In a nutshell, the Whole30® involves eating foods that are nutrient-dense and satiating, and avoiding foods that give a low nutritional bang for the buck. But it is more than that – it is a community of people who support each other far beyond the 30 days. In my opinion, the genius and success of the Whole30® are found in the fact that Melissa is adept at creating and maintaining the community. If she has been this successful at creating a global online community, imagine what we can do face to face in our own communities!

If we truly want to contribute to the health of our communities, we need to jump all in! We need to provide information and education in a way that people can understand, and then we need to provide the support they need to change habits and live healthier lifestyles. We can each do this at the individual and community level, but we will have more impact if we act as a united front of healthcare professionals who truly care about putting patients first.

Strive Labs can help you continue to build relationships with your community by simply reaching back out to your discharged patients. Click below to start your outreach today!

Download DIY Reactivation Plan

Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist who specializes in helping people change their relationship with food and create life-long healthy habits. She is the co-creator of the original Whole30® program, the New York Times bestselling author of The Whole30® and It Starts With Food, and has been featured by Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, the Wall Street Journal, Details, Shape, Outside, and SELF. Melissa has presented more than 150 health and nutrition seminars worldwide, and provides support to more than 1.5 million people a month through the Whole30® website.

(Disclaimer: Ann has served as a consultant for Whole30® since 2012.)

Ann Wendel

Physical Therapist, Writer, Speaker, Consultant, Kettlebell Lover. Director of Brand Marketing for @strive_labs and @APTAtweets Media Spokesperson.