Women's College Research Institute

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Can digital screening help increase a patient’s physical activity?

Fall 2017

By Jennifer Lee

The benefits of exercise are well known, but a lot of things can prevent us from getting more of it, such as finding time or identifying the right opportunities. It can also be difficult for doctors to know how to help.

When patients visit their family doctor, some studies show that the subject of exercise often doesn’t get raised. This can be due to the fact that doctors may not have adequate knowledge about exercise habits or know which resources to recommend. Time can also be a factor for doctors when it comes to offering more personalized advice about exercise.

To find out if there’s a way to bridge this gap, Dr. Payal Agarwal and Dr. Noah Ivers at the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) are looking at digital solutions through the Screening While You Wait project. By asking patients in the hospital’s Family Practice Health Centre to complete electronic surveys about physical activity before their next doctor’s appointment, the goal is to see if this information will spark better conversations between doctors and patients, as well as result in changes to physical activity levels.

The survey responses also generate printable toolkits that include an exercise prescription, customized physical activity recommendations, and patient-specific educational and community resources. The exercise prescription can also be tweaked by family doctors after meeting with patients, to ensure that recommendations are realistically achievable.

The study has been running over the past year at WCH and researchers are aiming to have results ready in June 2018.

This research is an example of how WCH is contributing to a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario.


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  • Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO)