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Exercise as a Vital Sign: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of a Health System Intervention to Collect Patient-Reported Exercise Levels

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A Capsule Commentary to this article was published on 22 January 2014



Lack of regular physical activity is highly prevalent in U.S. adults and significantly increases mortality risk.


To examine the clinical impact of a newly implemented program (“Exercise as a Vital Sign” [EVS]) designed to systematically ascertain patient-reported exercise levels at the beginning of each outpatient visit.


The EVS program was implemented in four of 11 medical centers between April 2010 and October 2011 within a single health delivery system (Kaiser Permanente Northern California). We used a quasi-experimental analysis approach to compare visit-level and patient-level outcomes among practices with and without the EVS program. Our longitudinal observational cohort included over 1.5 million visits by 696,267 adults to 1,196 primary care providers.


Exercise documentation in physician progress notes; lifestyle-related referrals (e.g. exercise programs, nutrition and weight loss consultation); patient report of physician exercise counseling; weight change among overweight/obese patients; and HbA1c changes among patients with diabetes.


EVS implementation was associated with greater exercise-related progress note documentation (26.2 % vs 23.7 % of visits, aOR 1.12 [95 % CI: 1.11–1.13], p < 0.001) and referrals (2.1 % vs 1.7 %; aOR 1.14 [1.11–1.18], p < 0.001) compared to visits without EVS. Surveyed patients (n = 6,880) were more likely to report physician exercise counseling (88 % vs. 76 %, p < 0.001). Overweight patients (BMI 25–29 kg/m2, n = 230,326) had greater relative weight loss (0.20 [0.12 – 0.28] lbs, p < 0.001) and patients with diabetes and baseline HbA1c > 7.0 % (n = 30,487) had greater relative HbA1c decline (0.1 % [0.07 %–0.13 %], p < 0.001) in EVS practices compared to non-EVS practices.


Systematically collecting exercise information during outpatient visits is associated with small but significant changes in exercise-related clinical processes and outcomes, and represents a valuable first step towards addressing the problem of inadequate physical activity.

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This study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) (no. U58 DP002721) and by the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. RWG had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

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The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Richard W. Grant MD MPH.



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Grant, R.W., Schmittdiel, J.A., Neugebauer, R.S. et al. Exercise as a Vital Sign: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of a Health System Intervention to Collect Patient-Reported Exercise Levels. J GEN INTERN MED 29, 341–348 (2014).

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