Prof. Margaret McCarthy receives NIH grant to integrate exercise intervention in electronic health records

Prof. Margaret McCarthy headshot

October 19, 2020

The National Institute of Nursing Research has awarded Margaret McCarthy PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAHA, assistant professor at NYU Meyers, a three-year, $500,000 grant (K23NR018888-01A1) to develop and test a technology-enabled intervention to promote physical activity among patients at risk for cardiovascular disease. The study will add a new vital sign to electronic health records to measure physical activity and will gather data from patients remotely.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., with many risk factors, including a lack of physical activity. Organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that healthcare providers assess physical activity and encourage their patients to exercise, but this is not routinely done.

Physical inactivity as the only major cardiovascular disease risk factor that is not routinely addressed by clinicians, said McCarthy.

McCarthy’s study will develop and test an intervention to encourage physical activity and will embed it in electronic health records. During a clinic visit, when gathering vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, patients will be prompted by the electronic health record to respond to the “Physical Activity Vital Sign”–a series of three questions about physical activity levels.

In the study, which will be conducted in a preventive cardiology clinic, the electronic health record will alert healthcare providers to patients who are getting less than half of the current recommended level of exercise and will provide recommendations for increasing physical activity. Study participants will receive an activity tracker to monitor their physical activity for three months, which will be synced to their electronic health record for ongoing monitoring.

In addition to measuring any changes in activity levels, the researchers will assess changes to patients' cardiovascular risk, including their blood pressure, body mass index, and waist circumference.

The findings from this study can be used to establish routine assessment, promotion, and monitoring of physical activity—using existing technologies that healthcare providers and patients are already using, said McCarthy.