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Key Findings: Primary Care Providers’ Level of Preparedness for Recommending Physical Activity to Adults with Disabilities

Female doctor examining a female patient who is in a wheelchair
Primary care providers are more likely to discuss physical activity with their patients with disabilities if they feel prepared to do so.

Are Primary Care Providers Recommending Physical Activity to Patients with Disabilities?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Preventing Chronic Disease journal published a new study that looked at how prepared primary care providers (PCPs) feel to recommend physical activity to adults with disabilities. CDC scientists found that PCPs, specifically family doctors, internists, and nurse practitioners, are more likely to recommend physical activity to their patients with disabilities on a regular basis if they feel prepared to do so. However, just over 1 in 3 PCPs strongly agreed that they felt prepared to discuss physical activity with their adult patients with disabilities. Currently, half of PCPs recommend physical activity to their patients with disabilities at most visits.

Everybody needs physical activity for good health, and prior studies found that adults with disabilities are more likely to be physically inactive than those without disabilities. PCPs are in a key position to influence physical activity participation among their adult patients with disabilities. The recently published article highlights PCPs’ characteristics that are related to feeling prepared to discuss physical activity with adult patients with disabilities. The article also highlights PCPs’ reported barriers to recommending physical activity to their patients with disabilities. Public health practitioners could use this information to develop resources and tools that may help PCPs feel more prepared to discuss and recommend physical activity with their adult patients with disabilities.

Read the scientific summary of the article.

Main Findings

  • Most PCPs strongly (36.3%) or somewhat agreed (43.3%) they felt prepared to recommend physical activity to patients with disabilities.
  • While two-thirds of PCPs who felt prepared to recommend physical activity to their adult patients with disabilities did so at most visits, only about one-third of PCPs who did not feel prepared to recommend physical activity to their adult patients with disabilities did so at most visits.
  • The most common barriers reported by PCPs to recommending physical activity were patient-related, which included a perceived lack of interest by the patient in physical activity, and that the patient had other immediate health needs.
  • The more patients with disabilities that the PCP saw each week, the more prepared the PCP felt about recommending physical activity, and the more likely that the PCP recommended physical activity at most visits.

About This Study

  • The data used in this study were from the 2014 DocStyles survey, a web-based survey of primary care physicians and other health professionals conducted annually by Porter Novelli Public Services.
  • 1,209 PCPs, specifically family doctors, internists, and nurse practitioners, were included in this study.

What Can Be Done?

  • Understanding the factors and barriers that relate to how prepared PCPs feel to recommend physical activity to their patients with disabilities can assist public health practitioners in developing targeted public health resources that may help PCPs feel more prepared.
  • Increasing PCPs’ awareness of national, state, and local physical activity-related resources relevant to people with disabilities (such as YMCA, local chapters of Special Olympics, and Arthritis Foundation programs, as well as accessible parks and recreation centers) could help them feel more prepared to discuss physical activity options with their patients with disabilities.
  • Increasing exposure to people with disabilities in medical school curriculum and developing disability-related competencies for health professionals may enhance their ability to address the needs of this population, including physical activity needs.
  • To address barriers, such as PCP’s perceived lack of interest in physical activity among patients and the lack of time reported by PCPs, it might be possible to combine recommendations for physical activity with discussions of other related health issues, such as falls, balance, and endurance, rather than discussing these topics separately.
  • PCPs can use the following resources developed by public health programs and other organizations to help prepare themselves to discuss physical activity with their patients with disabilities:

What CDC Is Doing

CDC’s Disability and Health Branch at the Division of Human Development and Disability supports and provides funding for two National Centers on Health Promotion for People with Disabilities that focus on improving the quality of life for people living with disabilities, including their physical activity:

The Branch also supports 19 state-based programs to

  • Promote equal access to opportunities for optimal health;
  • Prevent long-standing diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and arthritis; and
  • Increase the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Learn more about the State Disability and Health Programs.

Key Findings Reference

Courtney-Long EA, Stevens AC, Carroll DD, Griffin-Blake S, Omura JD, Carlson SA. Primary Care Providers’ Level of Preparedness for Recommending Physical Activity to Adults With Disabilities. Prev Chronic Dis 2017;14:170328. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.170328.

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