A brief report on the development of a theoretically-grounded intervention to promote patient autonomy and self-management of physiotherapy patients: face validity and feasibility of implementation

Background Clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of low back pain suggest the inclusion of a biopsychosocial approach in which patient self-management is prioritized. While many physiotherapists recognise the importance of evidence-based practice, there is an evidence practice gap that may in part be due to the fact that promoting self-management necessitates change in clinical behaviours. Evidence suggests that a patient’s motivation and maintenance of self-management behaviours can be positively influenced by the clinician’s use of an autonomy supportive communication style. Therefore, the aim of this study was to develop and pilot-test the feasibility of a theoretically derived implementation intervention to support physiotherapists in using an evidence-based autonomy supportive communication style in practice for promoting patient self-management in clinical practice. Methods A systematic process was used to develop the intervention and pilot-test its feasibility in primary care physiotherapy. The development steps included focus groups to identify barriers and enablers for implementation, the theoretical domains framework to classify determinants of change, a behaviour change technique taxonomy to select appropriate intervention components, and forming a testable theoretical model. Face validity and acceptability of the intervention was pilot-tested with two physiotherapists and monitoring their communication with patients over a three-month timeframe. Results Using the process described above, eight barriers and enablers for implementation were identified. To address these barriers and enablers, a number of intervention components were selected ranging from behaviour change techniques such as, goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback to appropriate modes of intervention delivery (i.e. continued education meetings and audit and feedback focused coaching). Initial pilot-testing revealed the acceptability of the intervention to recipients and highlighted key areas for refinement prior to scaling up for a definitive trial. Conclusion The development process utilised in this study ensured the intervention was theory-informed and evidence-based, with recipients signalling its relevance and benefit to their clinical practice. Future research should consider additional intervention strategies to address barriers of social support and those beyond the clinician level.