Evaluation of physical activity counseling in primary care using direct observation of the 5As

Jennifer K. Carroll, Elizabeth Antognoli, Susan A. Flocke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND The 5As (ask, advise, assess, assist, arrange) are recommended as a strategy for brief physical activity counseling in primary care. There is no reference standard for measurement, however, and patient participation is not well understood. This study's objectives were to (1) develop a coding scheme to measure the 5As using audio-recordings of primary care visits and (2) describe the degree to which patients and physicians accomplish the 5As. METHODS We developed a coding scheme using previously published def ni-tions of the 5As, direct-observation measures, and evaluation of audio-recorded discussions of physical activity. We applied the coding scheme to 361 audio-recorded visits by patients reporting low levels of physical activity and 28 physicians in northeast Ohio. RESULTS The coding scheme achieved good inter-rater agreement for each of the 5As (κ = 0.62-1.0). A total of 135 visits included discussion of physical activity. Although ask tasks occurred in 91% of visits, it infrequently elicited sufficient detail about current activity. Patient readiness to change physical activity (assess) was infrequently directly elicited by the physician (24%), but readiness was commonly expressed by the patient in response to an assessment of current level of physical activity (53%). Ambivalence was infrequently followed by physician assistance (49%). CONCLUSIONS Our newly developed measure showed that (1) physicians infrequently assess patient readiness to change, (2) patient expressions of ambivalence are common, and (3) specific mention of recommended guidelines for exercise is nearly absent. Future work should increase clinician skills in exploring ambivalence and readiness to change, as well as improve explicit mention of recommended guidelines for physical activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-422
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Direct observation
  • Disease prevention
  • Doctor patient communication
  • Health behavior
  • Health care delivery
  • Health promotion
  • Health services research
  • Physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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