Longitudinal qualitative study describing family physicians' experiences with attempting to integrate physical activity prescriptions in their practice: 'It's not easy to change habits'.
Objective Physical activity (PA) prescriptions provided by family physicians can promote PA participation among patients, but few physicians regularly write PA prescriptions. The objective of this study was to describe family physicians’ experiences of trying to implement written PA prescriptions into their practice. Design Longitudinal qualitative study where participants were interviewed four times during a 12-month period. After the first interview, they were provided with PA prescription pads. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Setting Family medicine clinics in New Brunswick, Canada. Participants Family physicians (n=11) with no prior experience writing PA prescriptions, but who expressed interest in changing their practice to implement written PA prescriptions. Results Initially, participants exhibited confidence in their ability to write PA prescriptions in the future and intended to write prescriptions. However, data from the follow-up interviews indicated that the rate of implementation was lower than anticipated by participants and prescriptions were not part of their regular practice. Two themes emerged as factors explaining the gap between their intentions and behaviours: (1) uncertainty about the effectiveness of written PA prescription, and (2) practical concerns (eg, changing well-established habits, time constraints, systemic institutional barriers). Conclusion It may be effective to increase awareness among family physicians about the effectiveness of writing PA prescriptions and address barriers related to how their practice is organised in order to promote written PA prescription rates.