A new program from the BC Parks Foundation will help treat medical issues by giving patients a prescription to nature.
The PaRx initiative is Canada’s first nature prescription program operating in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Health care professionals registered with PaRx can prescribe nature to their patients, who would then be eligible to receive a free annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass.
Andy Day is the CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. He said the program has gotten off to a spectacular start and he hopes to see the program expand across Canada. Day hopes the program will be expanded to provincial parks in Ontario and Quebec where there are fees attached to accessing provincial parks.
“We’re hoping this is part of a movement. We’re approaching owners and managers of green spaces, as well as people who do outdoor activity, to see what kind of free passes and discounts they can provide to people with these prescriptions.”
The program launched officially in 2020, taking inspiration from similar programs in the U.S. Since then, PaRx won the Joule Innovation Prize from the Canadian Medical Association and was featured by the United Nations Health Organization’s COP26 report.
Day said more and more physicians have come to recognize the power of nature to bring physical and mental health benefits to patients suffering from an array of ailments. Over 1,000 health care providers have signed on to the PaRx initiative.
“We’re seeing a really strong response from health care professionals across the spectrum of disciplines. For example, I was talking to an ophthalmologist who said she’s been seeing a strong increase of eye problems in kids because they’ve been spending so much time in front of screens. So, she prescribes nature to them as a very effective intervention to make sure their eyes are getting the kind of complexity nature offers.”
General practitioners have prescribed nature to help treat ADHD, anxiety and depression. Research has also shown nature can have benefits in cancer treatment, cardiovascular health, and respiratory health. Studies have shown that patients are more likely to follow a physician’s advice to go out in nature if the advice is given in the form of a written prescription. PaRx recommends prescriptions of at least two hours a week with intervals that are at least 20 minutes in length.
“It will really be up to the health care professionals to determine who can benefit from spending more time in nature and within that, they will determine how this fits with the whole health care plan for individuals,” Day said.
PaRx is ideal for individuals living near national parks who may have financial barriers to accessing nature.
People can receive a nature prescription from any health care provider. However, providers must be registered with PaRx for their patients to receive the free Discovery Pass.
“The best thing for people to do is ask their doctor and if that provider isn’t registered they can easily sign up,” Day said. “The more people that are interested in this from a patient perspective, the more physicians will become interested in it and access the resources we have online to better understand the health care benefits of nature.”