Exercise vital sign in EHRs can boost care, research

Including an "exercise vital sign" (EVS) section in patients' electronic health records could help researchers evaluate the relationship between exercise and healthcare costs more accurately, according to a study to be published next month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Of nearly 1.8 million patients at Kaiser Permanente Southern California monitored between April 2010 and March 2011, 86 percent (1.5 million) had EVS as a part of their record. Of those, 36 percent were found to be completely inactive, while 33 percent were dubbed "insufficiently active."

EVS asked patients two questions during intake procedures as part of outpatient visits:

  • On average, how many days per week do you engage in moderate to strenuous exercise (such as a brisk walk)?
  • On average, how many minutes to do you engage in exercise at this level? (answers were recorded in 10-minute increments and went up to "150 or greater")

The EHR system's software then multiplied the two responses to show minutes per week of such activities for providers to review.

"Embedding questions about physical activity in the electronic medical record provides an opportunity to counsel millions of patients during routine medical care regarding the importance of physical activity for health," lead author Karen Coleman, Ph.D., said in the research announcement. "In addition, the Exercise Vital Sign has the potential to provide information about the relationship between the exercise and healthcare utilization, cost and chronic disease that has not been previously available."

To learn more:
- here's the study
- check out the accompanying announcement