By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Rapid response teams (RRTs) in acute care facilities are there to decrease mortality from preventable complications. But there is evidence that RRT systems “aren’t working as designed, particularly with regard to problems in the activation stage,” according to nurse researcher Jane Saucedo Braaten.

Figure 1. Five Domains of Cognitive Work Analysis and Corresponding Study Questions

Figure 1. Five Domains of Cognitive Work Analysis and Corresponding Study Questions (click image to enlarge)

Interested in how hospital system factors influence RNs’ activation behavior, Braaten decided to investigate further. She reports on her findings in this month’s CE–Original Research feature, “Hospital System Barriers to Rapid Response Team Activation: A Cognitive Work Analysis.” Here’s a summary.

Purpose: 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 and was used as the organizing element of the study. Data were obtained from interviews with 12 medical–surgical nurses and document review.
Results: Many system factors affected participants’ activation decisions. 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.

Braaten recommends that med−surg nurses become more involved in creating or improving hospital pro­tocols for RRT activation. She urges hospital leadership to back interventions that “support collaboration and offer assistance with nurses’ increased cognitive pro­cessing needs.” To learn more, read the article, which is free online, and listen to our interview with the author.


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