Population health. What does that mean exactly? Frequently I am asked this question as I explain what some of my responsibilities are as the Medical Director of the Hancock Wellness Centers.
I explain that Hancock Health has three medical fitness centers, at which point the person usually interjects with, “Medical fitness? Now, wait a minute, what does that mean?”
I describe how patients are referred to our fitness centers by their physicians—yes, their doctors, even their specialty doctors—for various programs, including:
health and behavior coaching,
social connection, and
exercise as an intervention and treatment for numerous medical diagnoses.
Even though I have been doing this work for many years now, there are instances when I find it difficult to explain these concepts. When we started this endeavor, my practice partners and colleagues on the medical staff were not familiar with terms like medical fitness, population health, and lifestyle medicine. Some had a hard time grasping the notion that our hospital was investing in operating a fitness center and planning to make it part of the healthcare continuum; some were even opposed and thought it irresponsible. I find it best to explain the medical fitness difference by starting with some background and definitions.
The Start of the Hancock Wellness Centers
First, Hancock Regional Hospital is a mid-sized community hospital in Greenfield, IN, about 15 miles east of Indianapolis. What started as a small hospital on 12 acres of land in 1951 has grown into a comprehensive health system with multiple locations that serve the county and the growing surrounding areas. Hancock Health employs approximately 1,800 people, is financially stable, and is respected and recognized locally, regionally, and nationally.