Realistic evaluation of EWS and ALERT: factors enabling and constraining implementation.

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

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Realistic Evaluation of EWS and ALERT: factors enabling and constraining implementation Background The implementation of EWS and ALERT in practice is essential to the success of Rapid Response Systems but is dependent upon nurses utilising EWS protocols and applying ALERT best practice guidelines. To date there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of EWS or ALERT as research has primarily focused on measuring patient outcomes (cardiac arrests, ICU admissions) following the implementation of a Rapid Response Team. Complex interventions in healthcare aimed at changing service delivery and related behaviour of health professionals require a different research approach to evaluate the evidence. To understand how and why EWS and ALERT work, or might not work, research needs to consider the social, cultural and organisational influences that will impact on successful implementation in practice. This requires a research approach that considers both the processes and outcomes of complex interventions, such as EWS and ALERT, implemented in practice. Realistic Evaluation is such an approach and was used to explain the factors that enable and constrain the implementation of EWS and ALERT in practice [1]. Aim The aim of this study was to evaluate factors that enabled and constrained the implementation and service delivery of early warnings systems (EWS) and ALERT in practice in order to provide direction for enabling their success and sustainability. Methods The research design was a multiple case study approach of four wards in two hospitals in Northern Ireland. It followed the principles of realist evaluation research which allowed empirical data to be gathered to test and refine RRS programme theory. This approach used a variety of mixed methods to test the programme theories including individual and focus group interviews, observation and documentary analysis in a two stage process. A purposive sample of 75 key informants participated in individual and focus group interviews. Observation and documentary analysis of EWS compliance data and ALERT training records provided further evidence to support or refute the interview findings. Data was analysed using NVIVO8 to categorise interview findings and SPSS for ALERT documentary data. These findings were further synthesised by undertaking a within and cross case comparison to explain the factors enabling and constraining EWS and ALERT. Results A cross case analysis highlighted similarities, differences and factors enabling or constraining successful implementation across the case study sites. Findings showed that personal (confidence; clinical judgement; personality), social (ward leadership; communication), organisational (workload and staffing issues; pressure from managers to complete EWS audit and targets), educational (constraints on training; no clinical educator on ward) and cultural (routine task delegated) influences impact on EWS and acute care training outcomes. There were also differences noted between medical and surgical wards across both case sites. Conclusions Realist Evaluation allows refinement and development of the RRS programme theory to explain the realities of practice. These refined RRS programme theories are capable of informing the planning of future service provision and provide direction for enabling their success and sustainability. References: 1. McGaughey J, Blackwood B, O’Halloran P, Trinder T. J. & Porter S. (2010) A realistic evaluation of Track and Trigger systems and acute care training for early recognition and management of deteriorating ward–based patients. Journal of Advanced Nursing 66 (4), 923-932. Type of submission: Concurrent session Source of funding: Sandra Ryan Fellowship funded by the School of Nursing & Midwifery, Queen’s University of Belfast
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event4. 4th International British Association of Critical; Care Nurses conference. - Brighton Dome, Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 09 Sep 201211 Sep 2012


Conference4. 4th International British Association of Critical; Care Nurses conference.
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Realist evaluation
  • Critical care
  • early warning systems


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