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JOURNAL ARTICLE

CE: Original research: hospital system barriers to rapid response team activation: a cognitive work analysis

Jane Saucedo Braaten
American Journal of Nursing 2015, 115 (2): 22-32; test 33; 47
25588088

BACKGROUND: The goal of rapid response team (RRT) activation in acute care facilities is to decrease mortality from preventable complications, but such efforts have been only moderately successful. Although recent research has shown decreased mortality when RRTs are activated more often, many hospitals have low activation rates. This has been linked to various hospital, team, and nursing factors. Yet there is a dearth of research examining how hospital systems shape nurses' behavior with regard to RRT activation. Making systemic constraints visible and modifying them may be the key to improving RRT activation rates and saving more lives.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to use cognitive work analysis to describe factors within the hospital system that shape medical-surgical nurses' RRT activation behavior.

METHODS: Cognitive work analysis offers a framework for the study of complex sociotechnical systems. This framework was used as the organizing element of the study. Qualitative descriptive design was used to obtain data to fill the framework's five domains: resources, tasks, strategies, social systems, and worker competency. Data were obtained from interviews with 12 medical-surgical nurses and document review. Directed content analysis was used to place the obtained data into the framework's predefined domains.

RESULTS: Many system factors affected participants' decisions to activate or not activate an RRT. Systemic constraints, especially in cases of subtle or gradual clinical changes, included a lack of adequate information, the availability of multiple strategies, the need to justify RRT activation, a scarcity of human resources, and informal hierarchical norms in the hospital culture. The most profound constraint was the need to justify the call. Justification was based on the objective or subjective nature of clinical changes, whether the nurse expected to be able to "handle" these changes, the presence or absence of a physician, and whether there was an expectation of support from the RRT team. The need for justification led to delays in RRT activation.

CONCLUSIONS: Although it's generally thought that RRTs are activated without hesitation, this study found the opposite was true. All of the aforementioned constraints increase the cognitive processing load on the nurse. The value of the RRT could be increased by modifying these constraints-in particular, by lifting the need to justify calls, improving protocols, and broadening the range of culturally acceptable triggers-and by involving the RRT earlier in patient cases through discussion, consultation, and collaboration.

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