Doctors in Northern Idaho Individualize Healthy Lifestyle Rx 

By: Nanci Jenkins, Panhandle Health District CPHMC Grant Manager

Dr. Dean Ornish, world renowned heart surgeon and cardiologist, once described surgical interventions to treat heart disease in the absence of healthy lifestyle changes as if the sink is overflowing with water and you grab a mop to start cleaning up without first turning off the faucet. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?  If the cause of the overflowing sink isn’t addressed, then you will be continually frustrated while mopping as hard as you can. What if every time a physician was asked to treat a patient they not only treated the problem but they also treated the cause of the problem? Effectively turning off the faucet. In Bonner County, Idaho an attempt to do just that is underway.

Smoking is one cause of illness that most people are aware of.  The American Heart Association has led the way in studying techniques to aid in smoking cessation population wide. One of the techniques identified involves an intervention by physicians.  In some cases, this may mean writing a prescription for a medication to help ease the craving or to counter the effects of nicotine. But an equally powerful technique necessitates a physician looking directly at a patient and stating in no uncertain terms, “You must stop smoking now!”  It is surprising how many patients state that they have never been told this by their own doctor and once they were told, they found the strength to stop. Others discovered that when told to quit, their desire to do so increased yet they still struggled with knowing the means to success.

            The Bonner County Coalition for Health (BCCH) has created a tool to help physicians tell their patients that they must make a lifestyle change now (like stop smoking or eat more vegetables for example) and to help them find the means to do so. The tool is called “Healthy Lifestyle Rx”. These are non-pharmaceutical prescription pads individualized to each health care organization. A physician may write a prescription and hand it to the patient just as they would a prescription for a medication. A cardiology practice might be most interested in stopping smoking and blood pressure management with a low sodium diet.  An OB/GYN practice might be most interested in having their patient enroll in the WIC program or engage in a walking program. These specific recommendations will appear on their individualized prescription pad.

            Unique to this program in Bonner County is the addition of a website link. Each pad has the newly created BCCH website address printed on it. Since physicians are over burdened with paperwork these days, the idea of adding one more task was not well received. By adding a website to the pads, we have allowed the patients to go to a place to get clarification after they have left the physician office. The website offers a button that mimics the logo on the Healthy Lifestyle Pads for each organization. A patient simply finds the logo that matches the prescription they were given, clicks on it and is taken to the page that describes exactly what their physician would like for them to do.

            In the process of creating this tool, we discovered another excellent website resource in our county.  It is The Sandpoint Community Resource Center (SCRC).  They too have a website and are now linked to the BCCH website. A patient can look up health resources on the SCRC site and be taken directly to the BCCH site. Additionally, the Healthy Lifestyle Rx links are readily available on the SCCR website. This has been a wonderful collaboration that helps all residents of Bonner County and beyond. For more information please visit and