Concept and study protocol of the process evaluation of a pragmatic randomized controlled trial to promote physical activity in outpatients with heterogeneous mental disorders-the ImPuls study

Trials. 2023 May 15;24(1):330. doi: 10.1186/s13063-023-07331-y.


Background: Evidence suggests that patients suffering from different mental disorders benefit from exercise programs combined with behavior change techniques. Based on this evidence, we have developed an exercise program (ImPuls) specifically designed to provide an additional treatment option in the outpatient mental health care system. The implementation of such complex programs into the outpatient context requires research that goes beyond the evaluation of effectiveness, and includes process evaluation. So far, process evaluation related to exercise interventions has rarely been conducted. As part of a current pragmatic randomized controlled trial evaluating ImPuls treatment effects, we are therefore carrying out comprehensive process evaluation according to the Medical Research Council (MRC) framework. The central aim of our process evaluation is to support the findings of the ongoing randomized controlled trial.

Methods: The process evaluation follows a mixed-methods approach. We collect quantitative data via online-questionnaires from patients, exercise therapists, referring healthcare professionals and managers of outpatient rehabilitative and medical care facilities before, during, and after the intervention. In addition, documentation data as well as data from the ImPuls smartphone application are collected. Quantitative data is complemented by qualitative interviews with exercise therapists as well as a focus-group interview with managers. Treatment fidelity will be assessed through the rating of video-recorded sessions. Quantitative data analysis includes descriptive as well as mediation and moderation analyses. Qualitative data will be analyzed via qualitative content analysis.

Discussion: The results of our process evaluation will complement the evaluation of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness and will, for example, provide important information about mechanisms of impact, structural prerequisites, or provider qualification that may support the decision-making process of health policy stakeholders. It might contribute to paving the way for exercise programs like ImPuls to be made successively available for patients with heterogeneous mental disorders in the German outpatient mental health care system.

Trial registration: The parent clinical study was registered in the German Clinical Trials Register (ID: DRKS00024152, registered 05/02/2021, ).

Keywords: Behavior change techniques; Group-based exercise intervention; Implementation research; MRC framework; Mental disorders; Outpatient care.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol

MeSH terms

  • Exercise
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Outpatients
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic