Plymouth-led research team given £1.3m funding to explore impact of web tool on GP exercise referral scheme
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Plymouth-led research team given £1.3m funding to explore impact of web tool on GP exercise referral scheme

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A Plymouth-led research team has been awarded £1.3m in funding to investigate how a web-based exercise coaching tool could benefit people who are prescribed exercise by their GPs.

The study is to explore how online tool e-coachER may impact the GP exercise referral scheme known as ERS.

ERS is an established method with which doctors can ‘prescribe’ exercise to patients with known medical conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and those with a history of depression.

Though ERS is known to bring health benefits, concerns linger as to whether patients optimise the prescription properly, with the new tool hoped to help coach them through the process.

The funded project is to last for 37 months, with this including a 15-month recruitment period from next July. As part of the study, patients receiving primary care for medical conditions, or with a history of depression – who are deemed suitable for ERS – will be recruited from areas in south west England, the West Midlands and Glasgow to take part in the trial.

Participants in the study will receive either standalone ERS, or ERS with access to e-coachER using a platform known as Lifeguide, which has been extensively tested for supporting other patients in Southampton and other parts of the world. Those using the coaching web tool will also receive technical support to ensure access to the internet and to help boost their confidence in using the technology.

The objective of the study is to get participants to reach recommended weekly activity levels of 150 minutes by 12 months, with the trial also exploring how the coaching tool impacts on people sticking with their prescribed treatment, while an analysis of cost-effectiveness will also take place.

“We are hoping to see at least 10 per cent more people achieving 150 minutes among those receiving e-coachER, compared with usual exercise referral alone,” said Adrian Taylor, study leader and professor of Health Services Research at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

“This would provide an option for local services to support their patients to increase physical activity with a significant health gain. We will also be interested in identifying what participants feel about e-coachER, if it increases physical activity after 12 months, and what they thought were the main ways in which this support was useful to them.”

The trial will initially begin with 180 participants, before progressing to a final phase where a further 1,220 patients will be recruited.

Generally, growing amounts of research has alluded to the health benefits exercise can bring us, with one recent study suggesting that walking could help to prevent and treat a number of medical issues.

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Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester Metropolitan University