Realist synthesis: Critical care rapid response systems.

Jennifer McGaughey, Peter O'Halloran, Samuel Porter, Bronagh Blackwood

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Background Rapid Response Systems (RRS) consist of four interrelated and interdependent components; an event detection and trigger mechanism, a response strategy, a governance structure and process improvement system. These multiple components of the RRS pose problems in evaluation as the intervention is complex and cannot be evaluated using a traditional systematic review. Complex interventions in healthcare aimed at changing service delivery and related behaviour of health professionals require a different approach to summarising the evidence. Realist synthesis is such an approach to reviewing research evidence on complex interventions to provide an explanatory analysis of how and why an intervention works or doesn’t work in practice. The core principle is to make explicit the underlying assumptions about how an intervention is suppose to work (ie programme theory) and then use this theory to guide evaluation. Methods A realist synthesis process was used to explain those factors that enable or constrain the success of RRS programmes. Results The findings from the review include the articulation of the RRS programme theories, evaluation of whether these theories are supported or refuted by the research evidence and an evaluation of evidence to explain the underlying reasons why RRS works or doesn’t work in practice. Rival conjectured RRS programme theories were identified to explain the constraining factors regarding implementation of RRS in practice. These programme theories are presented using a logic model to highlight all the components which impact or influence the delivery of RRS programmes in the practice setting. The evidence from the realist synthesis provided the foundation for the development of hypothesis to test and refine the theories in the subsequent stages of the Realist Evaluation PhD study [1]. This information will be useful in providing evidence and direction for strategic and service planning of acute care to improve patient safety in hospital. References: McGaughey J, Blackwood B, O’Halloran P, Trinder T. J. & Porter S. (2010) Realistic Evaluation of Early Warning Systems and the Acute Life-threatening Events – Recognition and Treatment training course for early recognition and management of deteriorating ward-based patients: research protocol. Journal of Advanced Nursing 66 (4), 923-932.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event5. RCN 2012 International Nursing Research conference - Grand Connaught Rooms, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Apr 201225 Apr 2012


Conference5. RCN 2012 International Nursing Research conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • realist synthesis
  • rapid response systems


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