Assisted ambulation to improve health outcomes for older medical inpatients (AMBULATE): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial.



Hospitalized older adults spend as much as 95% of their time in bed, which can result in adverse events and delay recovery while increasing costs. Observational studies have shown that general mobility interventions (e.g., ambulation) can mitigate adverse events and improve patients' functional status. Mobility technicians (MTs) may address the need for patients to engage in mobility interventions without overburdening nurses. There is no data, however, on the effect of MT-assisted ambulation on adverse events or functional status, or on the cost tradeoffs if a MT were employed. The AMBULATE study aims to determine whether MT-assisted ambulation improves mobility status and decreases adverse events for older medical inpatients. It will also include analyses to identify the patients that benefit most from MT-assisted mobility and assess the cost-effectiveness of employing a MT.


The AMBULATE study is a multicenter, single-blind, parallel control design, individual-level randomized trial. It will include patients admitted to a medical service in five hospitals in two regions of the USA. Patients over age 65 with mild functional deficits will be randomized using a block randomization scheme. Those in the intervention group will ambulate with the MT up to three times daily, guided by the Johns Hopkins Mobility Goal Calculator. The intervention will conclude at hospital discharge, or after 10 days if the hospitalization is prolonged. The primary outcome is the Short Physical Performance Battery score at discharge. Secondary outcomes are discharge disposition, length of stay, hospital-acquired complications (falls, venous thromboembolism, pressure ulcers, and hospital-acquired pneumonia), and post-hospital functional status.


While functional decline in the hospital is multifactorial, ambulation is a modifiable factor for many patients. The AMBULATE study will be the largest randomized controlled trial to test the clinical effects of dedicating a single care team member to facilitating mobility for older hospitalized patients. It will also provide a useful estimation of cost implications to help hospital administrators assess the feasibility and utility of employing MTs.

Trial registration

Registered in the United States National Library of Medicine (# NCT05725928). February 13, 2023.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Johnson, Joshua K, Aaron C Hamilton, Bo Hu, Quinn R Pack, Peter K Lindenauer, Robert J Fox, Ardeshir Hashmi, Lee Anne Siegmund, et al. (2023). Assisted ambulation to improve health outcomes for older medical inpatients (AMBULATE): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 24(1). p. 471. 10.1186/s13063-023-07501-y Retrieved from

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Joshua Kurt Johnson

Assistant Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

As a physical therapist researcher, I seek to better understand and improve rehabilitation care delivery using the learning health system framework. This prompts overlap in my work between data science and implementation science. I have the opportunity to use various sources of health data and engage in multiple quantitative and qualitative research methods. My work also lends naturally to partnership with healthcare leaders and clinicians. To facilitate this work, I have several roles at Duke University. In the School of Medicine, I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Department of Population Health Sciences. I am also the Clinical Research Lead for the Duke University Health System Department of Rehabilitation and a member of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Prior to joining the faculty at Duke, I was the Director of PM&R Outcomes Research at Cleveland Clinic. My PhD training was at the University of Utah. I hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Arcadia University and Bachelors degree in Athletic Training from Brigham Young University. 

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