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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Measuring the context of care in an Australian acute care hospital: a nurse survey

Timothy J Schultz123* and Alison L Kitson234

Author Affiliations

1 Australian Patient Safety Foundation, Playford Building, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

2 Discipline of Nursing, School of Population Health and Clinical Practice, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

3 Centre for Evidence-Based Practice South Australia, a Collaborating Centre of the Joanna Briggs Institute, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

4 Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, Woodstock Road, Oxford, UK

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Implementation Science 2010, 5:60  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-5-60

Published: 2 August 2010



This study set out to achieve three objectives: to test the application of a context assessment tool in an acute hospital in South Australia; to use the tool to compare context in wards that had undergone an evidence implementation process with control wards; and finally to test for relationships between demographic variables (in particular experience) of nurses being studied (n = 422) with the dimensions of context.


The Alberta Context Tool (ACT) was administered to all nursing staff on six control and six intervention wards. A total of 217 (62%) were returned (67% from the intervention wards and 56% from control wards). Data were analysed using Stata (v9). The effect of the intervention was analysed using nested (hierarchical) analysis of variance; relationships between nurses' experience and context was examined using canonical correlation analysis.


Results confirmed the adaptation and fit of the ACT to one acute care setting in South Australia. There was no difference in context scores between control and intervention wards. However, the tool identified significant variation between wards in many of the dimensions of context. Though significant, the relationship between nurses' experience and context was weak, suggesting that at the level of the individual nurse, few factors are related to context.


Variables operating at the level of the individual showed little relationship with context. However, the study indicated that some dimensions of context (e.g., leadership, culture) vary at the ward level, whereas others (e.g., structural and electronic resources) do not. The ACT also raised a number of interesting speculative hypotheses around the relationship between a measure of context and the capability and capacity of staff to influence it.

We propose that context be considered to be dependent on ward- and hospital-level factors. Additionally, questions need to be considered about the unit of measurement of context in studies of knowledge implementation--is individual (micro), ward (meso) or hospital-level (macro) data most appropriate? The preliminary results also raise questions about how best to utilise this instrument in knowledge translation research.