Implementation of increased physical therapy intensity for improving walking after stroke: Walk 'n Watch protocol for a multi-site stepped-wedge cluster randomized controlled trial

Peters, Sue, Lim, Shannon, Bayley, Mark T, Best, Krista, Connell, Louise Anne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0629-2919, Corriveau, Hélène, Donkers, Sarah, Dukelow, Sean P, Klassen, Tara D et al (2022) Implementation of increased physical therapy intensity for improving walking after stroke: Walk 'n Watch protocol for a multi-site stepped-wedge cluster randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Stroke: Official Journal of the International Stroke Society . p. 17474930221129982. ISSN 1747-4949

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Clinical practice guidelines support structured, progressive protocols for improving walking after stroke. Yet, practice is slow to change, evidenced by the little amount of walking activity in stroke rehabilitation units. Our recent study (n=75) found that a structured, progressive protocol integrated with typical daily physical therapy improved walking and quality of life measures over usual care. Research therapists progressed the intensity of exercise by using heart rate and step counters worn by the participants with stroke during therapy. To have the greatest impact, our next step is to undertake an implementation trial to change practice across stroke units where we enable the entire unit to use the protocol as part of standard of care. What is the effect of introducing structured, progressive exercise (termed the Walk 'n Watch protocol) to standard of care on the primary outcome of walking in adult participants with stroke over the hospital inpatient rehabilitation period? Secondary outcomes will be evaluated and include quality of life.Methods and sample size estimates: This national, multisite clinical trial will randomize 12 sites using a stepped-wedge design where each site will be randomized to deliver Usual Care initially for 4, 8, 12 or 16-months (three sites for each duration). Then, each site will switch to the Walk 'n Watch phase for the remaining duration of a total 20-month enrolment period. Each participant will be exposed to only one of Usual Care or Walk 'n Watch. The trial will enrol a total of 195 participants with stroke to achieve a power of 80% with a Type I error rate of 5%, allowing for 20% dropout. Participants will be medically stable adults post-stroke and able to take 5 steps with a maximum physical assistance from one therapist. The Walk 'n Watch protocol focuses on completing a minimum of 30-minutes of weight-bearing, walking-related activities (at the physical therapists' discretion) that progressively increases in intensity informed by activity trackers measuring heart rate and step number.Study outcome(s): The primary outcome will be the change in walking endurance, measured by the Six-Minute Walk Test, from Baseline (T1) to 4-weeks (T2). This change will be compared across Usual Care and Walk 'n Watch phases using a linear mixed-effects model. Additional physical, cognitive, and quality of life outcomes will be measured at T1, T2, and 12-months post-stroke (T3) by a blinded assessor. The implementation stepped-wedge cluster-randomized trial enables the protocol to be tested under real-world conditions, involving all clinicians on the unit. It will result in all sites and all clinicians on the unit to gain expertise in protocol delivery. Hence, a deliberate outcome of the trial is facilitating changes in best practice to improve outcomes for participants with stroke in the trial, and for the many participants with stroke admitted after the trial ends.

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