Simplified routines in prescribing physical activity can increase the amount of prescriptions by doctors, more than economic incentives only: an observational intervention study

BMC Res Notes. 2010 Nov 15;3:304. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-3-304.


Background: Physical inactivity is one well-known risk factor related to disease. Physical activity on prescription (PAP) has been shown in some studies to be a successful intervention for increasing physical activity among patients with a sedentary lifestyle. The method involves motivational counselling that can be time-consuming for the prescribing doctor and might be a reason why physical activity on prescription is not used more frequently. This study might show a way to make the method of prescribing physical activity more user-friendly. The purpose is to determine whether a change in procedures increases the use of physical activity on prescription, and thus the aim of this study is to describe the methodology used.

Results: The observational intervention study included an intervention group consisting of one Primary Health Care (PHC) clinic and a control group consisting of six PHC clinics serving 149,400 inhabitants in the County of Blekinge, Sweden.An economic incentive was introduced in both groups when prescribing physical activity on prescription. In the intervention group, a change was made to the process of prescribing physical activity, together with information and guidance to the personnel working at the clinics. Physical therapists were used in the process of carrying out the prescription, conducting the motivational interview and counselling the patient. This methodology was used to minimise the workload of the physician. The chi-2 test was used for studying differences between the two groups. PAP prescribed by doctors increased eightfold in the intervention group compared to the control group. The greatest increase of PAP was seen among physicians in the intervention group as compared to all other professionals in the control group. The economic incentive gave a significant but smaller increase of PAP by doctors.

Conclusion: By simplifying and developing PAP, this study has shown a concrete way to increase the implementation of physical activity on prescription in general practice, as opposed to what can be gained by an economic bonus system alone. This study indicates that a bonus system may not be enough to implement an evidence-based method.