Background: While a growing literature supports the effectiveness of physical activity interventions delivered in the primary care setting, few studies have evaluated efforts to increase physician counseling on physical activity during routine practice (i.e., outside the context of controlled research). This paper reports the results of a dissemination trial of a primary care-based physical activity counseling intervention conducted within the context of a larger, multi-strategy, Australian community-based, physical activity intervention, the 10,000 Steps Rockhampton Project.
Methods: All 23 general practices and 66 general practitioners (GPs, the Australian equivalent of family physicians) were invited to participate. Practice visits were made to consenting practices during which instruction in brief physical activity counseling was offered, along with physical activity promotion resources (print materials and pedometers). The evaluation, guided by the RE-AIM framework, included collection of process data, as well as pre- and post-intervention data from a mailed GP survey, and data from the larger project's random-digit-dialed, community-based, cross-sectional telephone survey that was conducted in Rockhampton and a comparison community.
Results: Ninety-one percent of practices were visited by 10,000 Steps staff and agreed to participate, with 58% of GPs present during the visits. General practitioner survey response rates were 67% (n =44/66 at baseline) and 71% (n =37/52, at 14-month follow-up). At follow-up, 62% had displayed the poster, 81% were using the brochures, and 70% had loaned pedometers to patients, although the number loaned was relatively small. No change was seen in GP self-report of the percentage of patients counseled on physical activity. However, data from the telephone surveys showed a 31% increase in the likelihood of recalling GP advice on physical activity in Rockhampton (95% confidence interval [CI]=1.11-1.54) compared to a 16% decrease (95% CI=0.68-1.04) in the comparison community.
Conclusions: This dissemination study achieved high rates of GP uptake, reasonable levels of implementation, and a significant increase in the number of community residents counseled on physical activity. These results suggest that evidence-based primary care physical activity counseling protocols can be translated into routine practice, although the initial and ongoing investment of time to develop partnerships with relevant healthcare organizations, and the interest generated by the overall 10,000 Steps program should not be underestimated.