Virtual wards for people with frailty: what works, for whom, how and why – a rapid realist review

Maggie J Westby*, Sharea Ijaz, Jelena Savović, Hugh S T McLeod, Sarah Dawson, Tomas Welsh, Hein le Roux, Nicola Walsh, Natasha Bradley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Virtual wards (VWs) deliver multidisciplinary care at home to people with frailty who are at high risk of a crisis or in crisis, aiming to mitigate the risk of acute hospital admission. Different VW models exist, and evidence of effectiveness is inconsistent.

We conducted a rapid realist review to identify different VW models and to develop explanations for how and why VWs could deliver effective frailty management.

We searched published and grey literature to identify evidence on multidisciplinary VWs. Information on how and why virtual wards might ‘work’ was extracted and synthesised into context-mechanism-outcome configurations with input from clinicians and patient/public contributors.

We included 17 peer-reviewed and 11 grey literature documents. VWs could be short-term and acute (1-21 days), or longer-term and preventative (typically 3-7 months). Effective VW operation requires common standards agreements, information sharing processes, an appropriate multidisciplinary team that plans patient care remotely, and good co-ordination. VWs may enable delivery of frailty interventions through appropriate selection of patients, comprehensive assessment including medication review, integrated case management, and proactive care.
Important components for patients and caregivers are good communication with the VW, their experience of care at home, and feeling involved, safe, and empowered to manage their condition.

Insights gained from this review could inform implementation or evaluation of VWs for frailty. A combination of acute and longer-term VWs may be needed within a whole system approach. Proactive care is recommended to avoid frailty-related crises.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberafae039
JournalAge and Ageing
Issue number3
Early online date14 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society.

Structured keywords

  • NIHR ARC West
  • HEHP@Bristol


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