Background: The involvement of five specialist nurses in providing a stroke support service was evaluated quantitatively in a recent randomized controlled trial. This complementary study used qualitative methods to evaluate trial outcomes more comprehensively.
Aims: To identify whether the nurses' intervention may have influenced the process of stroke recovery.
Method: A purposefully selected subsample of 30 patients and 15 care-givers were interviewed within 1-3 months of their final quantitative assessment (12 months after recruitment to the randomized trial). Fifteen of the patients and eight of the care-givers had received visits from a specialist nurse. A semi-structured interview was designed to include questions on perceptions of the recovery process and evaluation of services received.
Results: Some differences were evident between the accounts of control and intervention group subjects. The less tangible aspects of nurses' interventions - concern, attention, empathy and interest, when combined with sound professional knowledge, had identifiable value to the patients and care-givers. It appeared that the nurses had employed considerable sensitivity and skill in identifying and responding to particular needs at appropriate times.
Conclusion: The qualitative evaluation offers a different picture to the quantitative results of the randomized controlled trial. In general, the findings of the qualitative study are more positive and encouraging than the quantitative results. The majority of patients and care-givers in the intervention group believed that they had benefited from the specialist nurse's visits.