Background: Effectiveness of educational interventions targeted at improving delirium care is limited by implementation barriers. Studying factors which shape learning needs can overcome these knowledge transfer barriers. This in-depth qualitative study explores learning needs of hospital staff relating to care needs of the confused older patients.
Methods: Fifteen research participants from across the healthcare spectrum working within an acute care setting were interviewed. Five focus groups were undertaken with patients, carers, and mental health specialists. A Grounded Theory methodology was adopted and data were analyzed thematically in parallel to collection until theoretical saturation was reached.
Results: Eight categories of practice gap emerged: ownership of the confused patient, negative attitudes, lack of understanding of how frightened the patient is in hospital, carer partnerships, person-centered care, communication, recognition of cognitive impairment and specific clinical needs (e.g. capacity assessments). Conceptually, the learning needs were found to be hierarchically related. Moreover, a vicious circle relating to the core learning needs of ownership, attitudes and patient's fear emerged. A patient with delirium may be frightened in an alien environment and then negatively labeled by staff who subsequently wish for their removal, thereby worsening the patient's fear.
Discussion: These findings reconceptualize delirium education approaches suggesting a need to focus interventions on core level practice gaps. This fresh perspective on education, away from disease-based delirium knowledge toward work-based patient, team and practice knowledge, could lead to more effective educational strategies to improve delirium care.