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When doctors at HealthPartners' Como clinic in St. Paul launched a "club" a decade ago, allowing patients to form support groups and engage in activities to improve their health, they never imagined they'd end up hosting yoga classes, cooking exhibitions, poetry readings and postelection stress therapy.

Yet that is what happened when the doctors empowered patients to create group activities. And now HealthPartners clinics in White Bear Lake and Maple Grove have launched clubs as well.

"We're trying to make it easier for people to do the right thing," said Dr. Steve Radosevich, the Como clinic's medical director.

The concept is based on the University of Minnesota's Citizen Health Care model, which predicts that patients are more likely to stick with healthy solutions of their own creations than with those ordered by doctors or promoted by insurers or employers.

The club also provides a community of people with common challenges, which studies suggest is essential for patients to stick with healthy choices for the long term, Radosevich said. "What they really need is support from others."

No research has been done to test whether club participants end up healthier than patients who don't take part, but Radosevich said patient satisfaction is high.

A single meeting a few years ago to use poetry to explore issues of caregiving and end-of-life care ended up as a regular poetry club. On Wednesday, the clinic offered fresh produce grown on a farm by its pharmacist and gave visitors free samples of ratatouille along with a recipe.

Sometimes the club is a starter option for patients who might not be ready to join a gym or sign up for a traditional yoga or cooking class. Other times it becomes a permanent source of support.

"We put in things you would think no one would come to," Radosevich said. "We did postelection stress a year and a half ago and we got almost 40 or 50 people. Enough members have grown to trust what we do that they'll take a chance on it."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744