Jody Ede


BACKGROUND: In the United Kingdom, there continues to be preventable National Health Service (NHS) patient deaths. Contributory factors include inadequate recognition of deterioration, poor monitoring, or delayed escalation to a higher level of care. Strategies to improve care escalation, such as vital sign scoring systems and specialist teams who manage deterioration events, have shown variable impact on patient mortality. The need for greater care improvements has consistently been identified in NHS care reviews as well as patient stories. Furthermore, current research informing escalation improvements predominantly comes from examining failure to rescue events, neglecting what can be learned from rescue or successful escalation. AIM: The focus of this study was to address this knowledge gap by examining rescue and escalation events, and from this, to develop a Framework of Escalation Success Factors that can underpin a multi-faceted intervention to improve outcomes for deteriorating patients. METHODS: Escalation success factors, hospital and patient data were collected in a mixed methods, multi-site exploratory sequential study. Firstly, 151 ward care escalation events were observed to generate a theoretical understanding of the process. To identify escalation success factors, 390 care records were also reviewed from unwell ward patients in whom an Intensive Care Unit admission was avoided and compared to the records for patients who became unwell on the ward, admitted to an Intensive Care Unit, and died. Finally, thirty Applied Cognitive Task Analysis interviews were conducted with clinical experts (defined as greater than four years’ experience) including Ward Nurses (n= 7), Outreach Nurses (n= 5), Nurse Managers (n=5), Physiotherapists (n=4), Sepsis Nurses (n=3), Advanced Nurse Practitioners and Educators (n=2), Advance Clinical Practitioners (n=2), Nurse Consultant (n=1) and Doctor (n=1) to examine process of escalation in a Functional Resonance Analysis Model. RESULTS: In Phase 1, over half (n= 77, 51%) of the 151 escalation events observed were not initiated through an early warning score but other clinical concerns. The data demonstrated four escalation communication phenotypes (Informative, Outcome Focused, General Concern and Spontaneous Interaction) utilised by staff in different clinical contexts for different escalation purposes. In Phase 2, the 390 ward patient care record reviews (Survivors n=340, Non-survivors admitted to ICU n=50) identified that care and quality of escalation in the Non-survivor’s group was better overall than those that survived. Reviews also identified success factors present within deterioration events including Visibility, Monitoring, Adaptability, and Adjustments, not dissimilar to characteristics of high reliability organisations. Finally, Phase 3 interview data were dynamically modelled in a Functional Resonance Analysis Method. This illustrated differences in the number of escalation tasks contained in the early warning scoring system (n=8) compared to how escalation is successfully completed by clinical staff (n=24). Interview participants identified that 28% (9/32) of these tasks were cognitively difficult, also indicating how they overcome system complexity and challenges to successfully escalate. Interactions between escalation tasks were also examined, including Interdependence (how one affects another), Criticality (how many downstream tasks are initiated), Preconditions (what system factors need to be present), and Variability (factors which affect output reliability). This approach developed a system-focused understanding of escalation and signposted to process improvements. CONCLUSION: This research uniquely contributes to international evidence by presenting new elements to escalation of care processes. This includes indicating how frequently early warning scores trigger an escalation, the different ways in which escalation is communicated, that patient outcomes may inaccurately portray the quality of care delivered and examining the interaction between escalation tasks can identify areas of improvement. This is the first study to develop a preliminary Framework of Escalation Success Factors, which will be refined and used to underpin evidenced based care improvements. A key recommendation would be for organisations to use, when tested, the Framework of Escalation Success Factors to make system refinements that will promote successful escalation of care. PPI: This study has had Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) through a SUFFICE PPI Advisory Group.

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