Virtual wards: A rapid evidence synthesis and implications for the care of older people

Gillian Norman, Paula Bennett, Emma Vardy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Virtual wards are being rapidly developed within the National Health Service in the UK, and frailty is one of the first clinical pathways. Virtual wards for older people and existing hospital at home services are closely related.
In March 2022 we searched Medline, CINAHL, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and medRxiv for evidence syntheses which addressed clinical-effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, barriers and facilitators, or staff, patient or carer experience for virtual wards, hospital at home or remote monitoring alternatives to inpatient care.
We included 28 evidence syntheses mostly relating to hospital at home. There is low to moderate certainty evidence that clinical outcomes including mortality (example pooled RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.99) were probably equivalent or better for hospital at home. Subsequent residential care admissions are probably reduced (example pooled RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.57). Cost-effectiveness evidence demonstrated methodological issues which mean the results are uncertain. Evidence is lacking on cost implications for patients and carers. Barriers and facilitators operate at multiple levels (organisational, clinical and patient). Patient satisfaction may be improved by hospital at home relative to inpatient care. Evidence for carer experience is limited.
There is substantial evidence for the clinical effectiveness of hospital at home but less evidence for virtual wards. Guidance for virtual wards is lacking on key aspects including team characteristics, outcome selection and data protection. We recommend that research and evaluation is integrated into development of virtual ward models. The issue of carer strain is particularly relevant.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAge and Ageing
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Nov 2022


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