Background: Over the past decade, practitioners in primary health care (PHC) settings in many countries have issued written prescriptions to patients to promote increased physical activity or exercise. The aim of this study is to describe and analyse a comprehensive physical activity referral (PAR) scheme implemented in a routine PHC setting in Ostergötland County. The study examines characteristics of the PARs recipients and referral practitioners, identifies reasons why practitioners opted to use PARs with their clients, and discusses prescribed activities and prescriptions in relation to PHC registries.
Methods: Prospective prescription data were obtained for 90% of the primary health care centres in Ostergötland County, Sweden, in 2004 and 2005. The study population consisted of patients who were issued PARs after they were deemed likely to benefit from increased physical activity, as assessed by PHC staff.
Results: During the two-year period, a total of 6,300 patients received PARs. Two-thirds of the patients were female and half of the patients were 45-64 years. Half of the patients (50.8%) who received PARs were recommended a home-based activity, such as walking. One third (33%) of the patients issued PARs were totally inactive, reporting no days of physical activity that lasted for 30 minutes, and 29% stated that they reached this level 1-2 days per week. The number of PARs prescribed per year in relation to the number of unique individuals that visited primary health care during one year was 1.4% in 2004 and 1.2% in 2005. Two-thirds of the combined prescriptions were issued by physicians (38%) and nurses (31%). Physiotherapists and behavioural scientists issued the highest relative number of prescriptions. The most common reasons for issuing PARs were musculoskeletal disorders (39.1%) and overweight (35.4%), followed by high blood pressure (23.3%) and diabetes (23.2%).
Conclusion: Ostergötland County's PAR scheme reached a relatively high proportion of physically inactive people visiting local PHC centres for other health reasons. PAR-related statistics, including PAR-rates by individual PHC centres and PAR- rates per health professional category, show differences in prescribing activities, both by patient categories, and by prescribing professionals.