The Future of Healthcare With Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. of ACE Fitness

I believe it’s time for healthcare to really test investment in physical-activity interventions that are referred by healthcare providers in the clinical setting but delivered directly where people live, learn, work, play and pray. Ihad the pleasure to interview Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. As President and Chief Science Officer, Cedric stewards ACE’s development of strategies […]

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I believe it’s time for healthcare to really test investment in physical-activity interventions that are referred by healthcare providers in the clinical setting but delivered directly where people live, learn, work, play and pray.

Ihad the pleasure to interview Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. As President and Chief Science Officer, Cedric stewards ACE’s development of strategies to deliver exercise-science and behavior-change education in ways that are engaging and compelling, recruiting more people to become exercise professionals and health coaches and equipping them for growth in their respective fields. He’s responsible for driving innovation in the area of behavior-change programming, overseeing the development of programs that ACE-Certified Professionals® can utilize to help people adopt and sustain healthier lifestyles. Furthermore, he leads ACE’s exploration of how science-based programs and interventions appropriately integrate into healthcare and public health, is responsible for ensuring the scientific accuracy of ACE-commissioned studies, publications and all other materials that ACE creates, and represents the organization as a national and international presenter, writer and subject-matter expert, and highly sought-after media spokesperson.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From my undergraduate years at Rutgers to my current role as President and Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), I’ve always been driven to make the connection between movement and health, and to help people live their best lives and perform at their highest level — even if that just means being able to perform one’s activities of daily living. Despite my personal love of movement, like many people, I didn’t come from an active family. As a result, I understand and appreciate more than most that there is another world of people out there who don’t enjoy physical activity. Had I not been exposed to this on a very up-close and personal level, I’m convinced I would not have been as effective in my career.

What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

ACE is a progressive organization attuned to the most current health and fitness industry trends and key health-related issues. With obesity and other non-communicable diseases (e.g., diabetes and heart disease) being a major global crisis, ACE is devoted to training exercise professionals and health coaches to empower and educate consumers about the critical need to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors that include regularly engaging in physical activity. We seek to inspire, motivate and encourage individuals to make healthy living a valued and integral part of life. Achieving such lofty goals requires the participation of a wide variety of like-minded organizations and stakeholders.

In 2016, with eyes toward the future and a zeal to change the direction of the healthcare system, ACE convened an inspired and diverse group of experts, known collectively as the Prescription for Activity Task (PfA) Force, to answer a question, as profound as it is complex:

How might healthcare be mobilized to its full potential, for all the lives it touches, to help more people reach recommended physical-activity levels?

After three separate think-tank style meetings, and countless hours of work in between, the PfA Task Force completed a systems-change map that leads the United States toward an ultimate outcome of cultural transformation in the U.S. by the year 2035 — a culture where physical activity is prioritized, feasible and enjoyable across diverse population groups, and where 50 percent or more of Americans in every community, demographic and age group achieve recommended levels of physical activity.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?

ACE and other like-minded organizations are shining a light on some very specific, tangible ways in which healthcare could carve out even a small portion of what today is spent on “sick care” and instead invest it in well-tested programs and strategies to prevent disease from taking hold in the first place. The idea is for healthcare and community-health-focused funders to invest in a type of pre-healthcare, if you will. I’m talking about programs delivered directly where people live, work or otherwise gather that equip and guide people to make and sustain healthier lifestyle choices. It’s possible to make such programs empowering, connective and fun, and thus really appealing for participants! There are examples out there already that are working. Early evidence suggests such programs hold extraordinary promise. We and our allies believe it’s time for healthcare to really take the plunge.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

  1. Avoid distractions. Over the years, I’ve found that a key to consistent productivity is learning how to separate the important work from the relatively unimportant work that too often captures our attention. By doing so you’ll spend your best energy on the tasks that truly matter. Answering emails is a common distractor for many of us. In fact, according to some estimates, the average worker spends up to 30% of the work week on email. Many of us derive a great sense of accomplishment by promptly answering all of our email, even though the practice is likely distracting us from more important work.
  2. Attitude and effort trump talent. A talented team member with a poor attitude and who puts forth inconsistent effort can have a toxic effect on organizational culture and morale. In contrast, a team member with a healthy attitude who puts forth consistent effort can (within limits) overcome talent deficits by employing characteristics that are much more within any individual’s control — things such hard work, motivation and confidence.
  3. Learn to embrace change. The most successful individuals and organizations consistently demonstrate a capacity to change with the times and adapt to the ever-changing demands of their dynamic environments. By being more mindful regarding our feelings and apprehension related to change, we can acknowledge those feeling and evaluate the veracity of our concerns to help us gain a healthy perspective. We can use this new perspective to develop a game plan for using the change to spur growth and development.
  4. Maintain a beginner’s attitude. No matter how experienced or accomplished you may be, approach your work with the fresh attitude and curiosity of a beginner. This will help you stay motivated, energized and on an endless journey of growth and development.
  5. Embrace “failure.” None of us like to fail, but an unhealthy fear of failure can prevent us from experiencing many great opportunities. Taking risks and learning from the inevitable failures along our journeys allow us to live much more productive and rewarding lives personally and professionally.

Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

I think you’re referring to the Commonwealth Fund study in which the U.S. rated particularly poor in equality of coverage. We know that low-income Americans really struggle to gain access to care, and that’s a key reason why the U.S. ranked so low. Americans also spend vastly more on care, and a key contributor to that is our system’s slowness to transition from fee-for-service to fee-for-value. Healthcare today sits on the sideline until people become patients, and then the system incentivizes tests and procedures for which fees are paid whether or not the desired health outcome is reached. Imagine if providers in the system were instead incentivized by the achievement of desired health outcomes. Suddenly, funding and investment would flow to innovations that prevent chronic conditions and empower people to self-manage them more effectively.

You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

First, to be clear, I definitely don’t consider myself a healthcare insider. But based on my work the past number of years, here is what I believe:

  1. I believe it’s time for healthcare to really test investment in physical-activity interventions that are referred by healthcare providers in the clinical setting but delivered directly where people live, learn, work, play and pray.
  2. That means the assessment and monitoring of physical activity by healthcare providers needs to become a routine part of clinical practice. Clinical information architecture, processes and workflows need to be adapted accordingly.
  3. I urge payers, as they study the transition to value-based care, to test the return on investment of routine assessment, prescription and referral of at-risk patients to evidence-based programs based in community settings that exist to help community members become more physically active.
  4. I urge healthcare to invest in updates to payment, financing, evaluation and other key systems that underpin care delivery so that it becomes more administratively feasible for healthcare to provide medically necessary physical activity to patients who need it.
  5. Finally, I hope healthcare will embrace the idea that there is a role in primary and preventive care for nontraditional interventionists who are appropriately qualified, trusted and credentialed to work alongside traditional care providers and enable the system to help more people sooner and at a lower cost.

It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?

I really hope that health funders will invest in some of the kinds of systemic change that I described above. I believe healthcare and health funders and philanthropy can work even more closely to not only ensure progress toward physical activity as part of healthcare, but also to ensure access to medically necessary physical activity for those who need it most, regardless of race, income, age or ability. And I encourage the work of those local community leaders who press every day to ensure that every person in their communities has access to safe, appealing places and ways to get moving.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

I subscribe to the notion that life (and effective leadership) are about learning and growing. Because of this belief, I’ve grown particularly fond of the app Blinkist. Blinkist is a non-fiction book summary service that has thousands of abstracts (or blinks) on a wide range of topics, such as management & leadership, career & success, and personal development, to name a few. It allows me keep up with the ever-expanding knowledge pool in a very time-efficient manner. Each blink can be read or listened to in about 15 minutes. They are subdivided into sections or chunks for better comprehension, beginning with a brief introduction, which provides a general idea of what the book is about and “what’s in it for the reader,” and ending with a concise summary of the book’s key take-home points as well as tips for putting them into action.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Twitter @DrCedricBryant

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