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Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2013 Jun 22;21:46. doi: 10.1186/1757-7241-21-46.

Exclusion of context knowledge in the development of prehospital guidelines: results produced by realistic evaluation.

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University of Borås, School of Health Sciences, Borås, Sweden.



Prehospital work is accomplished using guidelines and protocols, but there is evidence suggesting that compliance with guidelines is sometimes low in the prehospital setting. The reason for the poor compliance is not known. The objective of this study was to describe how guidelines and protocols are used in the prehospital context.


This was a single-case study with realistic evaluation as a methodological framework. The study took place in an ambulance organization in Sweden. The data collection was divided into four phases, where phase one consisted of a literature screening and selection of a theoretical framework. In phase two, semi-structured interviews with the ambulance organization's stakeholders, responsible for the development and implementation of guidelines, were performed. The third phase, observations, comprised 30 participants from both a rural and an urban ambulance station. In the last phase, two focus group interviews were performed. A template analysis style of documents, interviews and observation protocols was used.


The development of guidelines took place using an informal consensus approach, where no party from the end users was represented. The development process resulted in guidelines with an insufficiently adapted format for the prehospital context. At local level, there was a conscious implementation strategy with lectures and manikin simulation. The physical format of the guidelines was the main obstacle to explicit use. Due to the format, the ambulance personnel feel they have to learn the content of the guidelines by heart. Explicit use of the guidelines in the assessment of patients was uncommon. Many ambulance personnel developed homemade guidelines in both electronic and paper format. The ambulance personnel in the study generally took a positive view of working with guidelines and protocols and they regarded them as indispensable in prehospital care, but an improved format was requested by both representatives of the organization and the ambulance personnel.


The personnel take a positive view of the use of guidelines and protocols in prehospital work. The main obstacle to the use of guidelines and protocols in this organization is the format, due to the exclusion of context knowledge in the development process.

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