Exercise referral schemes are recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for physical activity promotion among inactive patients with health conditions or risk factors. Whilst there is evidence for the initial effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of such schemes for increasing physical activity, evidence of long-term effects is limited. Techniques such as goal setting, self-monitoring and personalised feedback may support motivation for physical activity. Technologies such as activity monitoring devices provide an opportunity to enhance delivery of motivational techniques. This paper describes the PACERS study protocol, which aims to assess the feasibility and acceptability of implementing an activity monitor within the existing Welsh National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) and proposed evaluation methodology for a full-scale randomised controlled trial.
The PACERS study consists of a pilot randomised controlled trial, process evaluation and exploratory economic analyses. Participants will be recruited from the generic pathway of the Welsh NERS and will be randomly assigned to receive the intervention or usual practice. Usual practice is a 16-week structured exercise programme; the intervention consists of an accelerometry-based activity monitor (MyWellnessKey) and an associated web platform (MyWellnessCloud). The primary outcomes are predefined progression criteria assessing the acceptability and feasibility of the intervention and feasibility of the proposed evaluation methodology. Postal questionnaires will be completed at baseline (time 0: T0), 16 weeks after T0 (T1) and 12 months after T0 (T2). Routinely collected data will also be accessed at the same time points. A sub-sample of intervention participants and exercise referral staff will be interviewed following initiation of intervention delivery and at the end of the study.
The PACERS study seeks to assess the feasibility of adding a novel motivational component to an existing effective intervention in order to enhance effects on physical activity and support longer-term maintenance. The study will provide insight into the acceptability of activity-monitoring technologies to an exercise referral population and delivery staff. Data from this study will be used to determine whether and how to proceed to a full-scale trial of effectiveness of the intervention, including any necessary refinements to intervention implementation or the proposed evaluation methodology.