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BackgroundMany quality improvement initiatives in healthcare employ educational outreach visits, integrating academic detailing to bridge evidence-practice gaps and accelerate knowledge translation. Replicability of their outcomes in different contexts varies, and what makes some visiting programmes more successful than others is unclear.ObjectiveWe conducted a realist synthesis to develop theories of what makes educational outreach visiting integrating academic detailing work, for whom, under which circumstances and why, focusing on the clinician-visitor interaction when influencing prescribing of medicines in ambulatory care settings.MethodsThe realist review was performed in accordance with RAMESES standards. An initial programme theory was generated, academic databases and grey literature were screened for documents with detail on contexts, intervention and outcomes. Using realist logic of analysis, data from 43 documents were synthesised in the generation of a refined programme theory, supported by additional theoretical frameworks of learning and communication.ResultsTwenty-seven interdependent context-mechanism-outcome configurations explain how clinicians engage with educational outreach visits integrating academic detailing through programme design, what matters in programme design and the educational visitor-clinician interaction and how influence extends beyond the visit. They suggest that in addition to relevance, credibility and trustworthiness of a visit’s contents, communication and clinical skills of educational visitors, the relationship between the educational visitor and clinician, built on a dialogue of learning from and sense-making with each other, creates conditions of critical thinking which are conducive to facilitating prescribing practice change when necessary.ConclusionThis realist synthesis elucidates that the quality of clinician-educational visitor interactions is pivotal to educational outreach visiting programmes. Building and sustaining relationships, and establishing an open dialogue are important; neglecting these undermines the impact of visits. Educational visitors can facilitate clinicians’ reflection on practice and influence their prescribing. Clinicians value the discussion of individualised, tailored information and advice they can translate into their practice.PROSPERO registration numberCRD42021258199.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Quality & Safety



Publication Date