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Has the time come when doctors prescribe exercises as medicine?EIM system lands in Korea
Konkuk University Sports Medicine Center pushes to set up EIM chapter
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2017.07.24 17:15
  • Updated 2017.07.24 17:15
  • comments 0

Doctors often tell their patients, “take your medicine and make sure to exercise.” Especially when patients have chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, “I should work out” is thought that almost haunts them. Many, however, are at a loss as to how. If only doctors could prescribe exercise methods like medicines, patients would have only to follow.

There is a place when they prescribe exercises instead of medications -- Konkuk University Sports Medicine Center건국대병원 스포츠의학센터. The center is Korea’s first to introduce the “Exercise Is Medicine (EIM)” campaign with the goal of using exercise as a treatment method in full scale.

The EIM campaign, which started in the United States in 2007, is the exercise treatment program based on sports medicine. Doctors there do not stop at just saying “make sure to exercise” to their patients but set up specific plans, watch whether they follow them faithfully and assess their performances.

EIM has established and been operating branches in 43 countries around the world through seven bases. In Asia, it is running Hong Kong branch successfully and working to create a Japanese branch as well. And the establishment of EIM in South Korea is well on its way through the Konkuk University Sports Medicine Center.

Konkuk University Sports Medicine Center is about to introduce the “Exercise Is Medicine” (EIM) campaign to Korea.

What is the process for establishing a new EIM branch?

With EIM’s headquarters located in the U.S., the process behind creating a new EIM branch is far from simple — it requires professionals and a community that can share the project’s ideology and goals. Such a community requires not only doctors specializing in sports medicine, but also doctors, athletic majors and civic group officials who operate it, and the representatives of national university hospitals and public healthcare agencies.

The mandatory participation by the representatives of administrative agencies, civic organizations, and national university hospitals is because EIM’s most valued ideology is “non-profit.” It is to keep many exercise treatment programs and bases developed since 2007 from being used for profit.

With these communities at its core, the prospective branch’s preparation committee must apply for certification to the EIM headquarters. To win certification, it should also set up operational plans and secure the government’s guarantee for support.

Hong Kong has the only Asian chapter

The University of Hong Kong, which currently stands as the only EIM branch in Asia, spearheaded efforts by capitalizing on the university’s national influence to publicize the project. The university educated professionals to prepare for the EIM campaign, as well as gathered a group of primary medical institutions that would serve as “cooperative hospitals” for the program.

The campaign has since made great strides. The branch has gone so far as to survey all the roads of Hong Kong and classify them into ways good for a walk by patients, those for people who should start light exercises, and those for people with considerable physical strength.

EIM Korea starts in Gwangjin District

For a country like Korea, which is significantly different from the city state of Hong Kong, to successfully introduce EIM drive, it is most important to create success stories to change people’s awareness.

Professor Kim Jin-gu김진구 of Konkuk University Hospital’s Orthopedics Department is preparing for an EIM pilot project in Gwangjin District of Seoul where he is working now. Kim is currently making a small EMI system to help seniors living alone in Gwangjin-gu and is thinking of receiving aids from regional health centers, social welfare organizations, and large fitness centers.

His plan is to gather sports medicine professionals to create exercise treatment programs for older adults living alone, then employ graduates of athletic college in the district to implement them with the local elderly population. In addition to simply seeking people out, he also plans to work with startups from the Seoul Innovation Center to develop and distribute equipment that can measure the levels of exercise.

Kim hopes that with a combination of EIM-based exercise treatment programs, visiting services, and IT technology, there may very well be a solution for the elderly struggling with poor health.

How does exercise become treatment?

EIM-based exercise treatments are structured such that if a doctor examines a patient and gives a diagnosis of “one month of exercise treatment,” an appropriate treatment program is made and administered by exercise therapists with a background in sports medicine.

If EIM is rightly introduced in Korea, Professor Kim predicts that what is now a doctor’s passing suggestion to exercise can lead to the prescription of an exercise treatment. And if exercise is medicine, he said, it would be the most prescribed drug. Germany, where EIM activity is vigorous, they have turned post-cancer surgery exercise into a healthcare benefit. In the context of Korea, where the first instinct is to encourage rest after a cancer operation, Germany’s decision is difficult to understand.

For example, breast cancer surgery causes edema in upper limbs and reduces arm functionality, but exercise capability remains intact. Doctors prescribe regular cardiovascular exercise coupled with arm exercises, and exercise therapists plan an appropriate program to conduct exercise therapy.

Germany is an unusual case worldwide, but the fact that a medical stronghold like Germany acknowledged exercise therapy and made it a medical benefit suggest much for Korea where most people don’t consider exercise as medicine.

What role should primary care providers play?

The role of primary care institutions is vital to the success of the EIM campaign in Korea. Primary care providers, which care for chronic disease patients, must acknowledge and utilize EIM and exercise treatments to produce satisfactory effects.

“Currently, primary care providers manage chronic disease patients only by prescribing drugs,” Kim said. “If doctors take an interest in learning about exercise treatments and form relationships with exercise therapy-trained health instructors, they can make chronic disease patients take exercise treatment. Primary care providers can also make profits in this process.”

“I think doctors can even operate fitness centers. They can provide a proper space for sound exercise therapy with a sports medicine foundation. For the patient who has to take medication and exercise, a health fitness center allows them to do both,” Professor Kim said.

He went on to say, “It will create a stable system that allows doctors to practice the traditional medicine of sports medicine while feeling fulfilled and earning a profit.”


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