Open Access Research article

Predictors of primary care referrals to a vascular disease prevention lifestyle program among participants in a cluster randomised trial

Megan E Passey1*, Rachel A Laws2, Upali W Jayasinghe3, Mahnaz Fanaian3, Suzanne McKenzie34, Gawaine Powell-Davies3, David Lyle5 and Mark F Harris3

Author Affiliations

1 University Centre for Rural Health – North Coast, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, PO Box 3074, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia

2 Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia

3 Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia

4 School of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, 4811, Australia

5 Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Broken Hill, NSW, 2880, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:234  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-234

Published: 3 August 2012



Cardiovascular disease accounts for a large burden of disease, but is amenable to prevention through lifestyle modification. This paper examines patient and practice predictors of referral to a lifestyle modification program (LMP) offered as part of a cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) of prevention of vascular disease in primary care.


Data from the intervention arm of a cluster RCT which recruited 36 practices through two rural and three urban primary care organisations were used. In each practice, 160 eligible high risk patients were invited to participate. Practices were randomly allocated to intervention or control groups. Intervention practice staff were trained in screening, motivational interviewing and counselling and encouraged to refer high risk patients to a LMP involving individual and group sessions. Data include patient surveys; clinical audit; practice survey on capacity for preventive care; referral records from the LMP. Predictors of referral were examined using multi-level logistic regression modelling after adjustment for confounding factors.


Of 301 eligible patients, 190 (63.1%) were referred to the LMP. Independent predictors of referral were baseline BMI ≥ 25 (OR 2.87 95%CI:1.10, 7.47), physical inactivity (OR 2.90 95%CI:1.36,6.14), contemplation/preparation/action stage of change for physical activity (OR 2.75 95%CI:1.07, 7.03), rural location (OR 12.50 95%CI:1.43, 109.7) and smaller practice size (1–3 GPs) (OR 16.05 95%CI:2.74, 94.24).


Providing a well-structured evidence-based lifestyle intervention, free of charge to patients, with coordination and support for referral processes resulted in over 60% of participating high risk patients being referred for disease prevention. Contrary to expectations, referrals were more frequent from rural and smaller practices suggesting that these practices may be more ready to engage with these programs.

Trial registration


Preventive health care; General practice; Health behaviour; Lifestyle modification; Referral