Introduction to Evidence-Based Nursing (EBN)
What is Evidence-Based Nursing?
Definitions of evidence based nursing have varied in scholarly literature. Scott & McSherry's extensive literature review looked at commonalities between EBN definitions and synthesized them to come up with the following definition:
"An ongoing process by which evidence, nursing theory and the practitioners’ clinical expertise are critically evaluated and considered, in conjunction with patient involvement, to provide delivery of optimum nursing care for the individual."
Why Evidence Based Nursing?
Evidence-based nursing is one approach that may enable nurses to manage the explosion of new literature and technology and ultimately may result in improved patient outcomes.
Nursing students spend a great deal of preclinical preparation time designing care plans, reviewing pathophysiology, and memorizing pharmacologic interactions. Although these activities are useful, they cannot be the only methods of preparing students for nursing practice.
Sole reliance on textbooks and expert faculty knowledge does not promote the critical thinking skills that nurses must have to survive in the current fast paced clinical settings. Students must learn to develop independent, evidence-based methods of clinical decision making. Both medical and nursing professionals have explored this change in healthcare practice, research and knowledge development, a paradigm shift called "evidence based practice".
Evidence based practice (EBP) "involves an ability to access, summarize, and apply information from the literature to day-to-day clinical problems". Evidence based practice "requires an emphasis on systematic observation and experience and a reliance on the research literature to substantiate nursing decisions." Evidence based practice allows practitioners to meet a daily need for valid information about clinical situations.
Evidence based practice allows nurses to enrich their clinical training and experience with up to date research. With the large amount of research and information that exists in nursing, learning the skills of evidence based practice allows nurses to search for, assess, and apply the literature to their clinical situations.
How is EBN different from Evidence Based Medicine?
Evidence based medicine is defined as "the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. The practice of evidence based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research."
Both EBM and EBN fall under the umbrella of evidence based practice. However, nurses' approach to evidence based practice may differ from the standard biomedical model. Typically, nurses are committed to providing holistic care; treating and working with patients rather than working on them. Effectiveness of treatment is only one part of the clinical decision-making process: in deciding on therapeutic interventions, acceptability to the patient and cost-effectiveness are considered.
Evidence Based Nursing is a Five-Step Process
The 5 "A's" will help you to remember the EBN process:
- ASK: Information needs from practice are converted into focused, structured questions.
- ACQUIRE: The focused questions are used as a basis for literature searching in order to identify relevant external evidence from research.
- APPRAISE: The research evidence is critically appraised for validity.
- APPLY: The best available evidence is used alongside clinical expertise and the patient's perspective to plan care.
- ASSESS: Performance is evaluated through a process of self reflection, audit, or peer assessment.
Step One: Ask
Defining the Question: Issues or questions can arise in a variety of situations. The use of the evidence based process is not limited to the clinical situation, but can also be useful in the management environment. With such an overwhelming (and rapidly growing) amount of medical information, but a limited amount of time available to search, this step can be one of the most important ones. The creation of a focused and clearly defined question can make efficient use of your time to find a manageable amount of literature to address the information need.
There are generally four parts to question building: the patient/problem, the intervention, the comparison and the outcome. You may have heard of the acronym PICO to refer to this question building process.
Step Two: Acquire
Selecting Resources and Conducting the Search: In this step, you will locate the highest quality, relevant information from the medical literature to answer your question. To do this, you need to select the databases and journals you will use to find the answer to your question. Information about these databases and journals is available in the EBN Databases and Journals section.
Some resources, such as the Cochrane databases are "prefiltered". This means that the authors of the database have already systematically reviewed the articles to make sure that they are relevant and of high quality. Systematic reviews are an overview of all of the evidence addressing a focused clinical question. Other resources, such as PubMed and CINAHL, are "unfiltered". This means that you conduct a search based on your question and filter through the results yourself.
You should examine your search strategy based on the tool you are using. Some databases, such as PubMed, have a controlled vocabulary. For example, instead of classifying "cancer", they classify "neoplasm". When using their controlled vocabulary, you may receive greater accuracy in terms or the topic on which you are searching. See our suggested PubMed Tutorials for assistance and more information.
PubMed (MEDLINE) search:
Let's perform a PubMed (MEDLINE) search to find articles related to the following situation:
You are a nursing administrator responsible for cutting the personnel budget with the least amount of impact on patient care. The question you are asking yourself is, "Will decreasing the number of RNs (versus unlicensed assistive personnel) have a low impact on patient care?"
To access PubMed, go to the Health Sciences Library website http://www.hsl.unc.edu. From there, click on the PubMed (MEDLINE) link. Accessing through this link both on campus and off campus (if connected through the proxy server) will allow you to access any of UNC's electronic journals and resources.
A possible set of search terms that could be used include: nurses' aides AND staffing AND patient outcomes Three of the resulting articles are listed below.
Needleman J, Buerhaus P, Mattke S, Stewart M, Zelevinsky K.
Nurse-staffing levels and the quality of care in hospitals.
N Engl J Med. 2002 May 30;346(22):1715-22.
Sovie MD, Jawad AF.
Hospital restructuring and its impact on outcomes: nursing staff regulations are premature.
J Nurs Adm. 2001 Dec;31(12):588-600.
Blegen MA, Vaughn T.
A multisite study of nurse staffing and patient occurrences.
Nurs Econ. 1998 Jul-Aug;16(4):196-203.
Step 3: Appraise
Critical Appraisal / Evaluation of the Literature: In this step you critically appraise the evidence for its validity, impact, and usefulness in clinical practice. If you do not use a systematic reviews database, you will have to appraise whether or not the research is clinically sound. There are many different types of research studies, including prognosis, diagnosis, harm/etiology, and therapy. You will need to examine the articles on the basis of validity by examining potential sources of bias, as well as looking at the type of methodology used in the study. For more information about these, see UNC's HSL Evidence Based Medicine tutorial and the readings below. Regardless of whether you use CINAHL or Cochrane, you will need to assess whether the articles you are reading are appropriate to your clinical situation and patient's needs.
Read the following articles, looking for potential sources of bias, examining the methodology, and validity. Compare the usefulness of the articles to your question: Will decreasing the number of RNs (versus UAPs) have a low impact on patient care?
Step 4: Apply
This is the step where you integrate the evidence with your clinical expertise and the unique needs and values of your patient/situation.
From the literature search, you've found that the articles you've read do not state specific guidelines or staff ratio suggestions, but do discuss that cuts in RNs have lead to decreases in patient outcomes. Initially, you considered cutting some of your RN staff because of cost purposes. After assessing your current situation, you remember that your most recent personnel cuts have been to the RN staff. After considering the literature and your current situation, you believe that any further RN cuts may provide too much of a risk to quality of care and not enough of a benefit to the budget. You decide on having cutbacks in the number of UAPs and to reorganize the staff in order to have a more effective combination of RNs to UAPs.
Step 5: Assess
After applying what you've learned from the literature to your situation, you will need to evaluate outcomes in shorter-term and longer-term intervals. In assessing the situation, you regard feedback from all staff and from patients. You notice changes and statistics of patient care and outcomes, as mentioned in the articles. You personally will need to decide after what period of positive or negative feedback you decide to consider the changes a success or choose alternative plans.
You should not only assess the outcomes in your situation, but also the effectiveness and efficiency of the evidence based process and consider avenues for improvement.
Exercises and Scenarios
EBN Resources & Trainings
EBN Databases and Journals
Below are databases that focus specifically on Evidence Based Practice that you may find helpful.
EBN in Other Databases
UNC-CH Libraries Catalog
Not all journals that you will want to read will have online access. Fortunately, UNC has access to many of both online and print journals related to nursing. To find out whether UNC-CH carries a particular journal, print or electronic, visit the UNC-CH Libraries Catalog. Type the title of the journal in the box. Select "Journal Title" from the "Search for words:" dropdown menu.
Electronic Journals Finder
The Electronic Journals Finder includes all of the journals to which UNC-CH has online access.
Specific Evidence Based Practice Journals to Look For
The following journals use predefined criteria to publish evaluated abstracts of the literature and comment on the methodology of each published study. In other words, these journals perform systematic reviews of the literature, performing the critical appraisal and assessment of the literature mentioned in the "steps" of evidence based practice.
Additional Readings About EBN
AJN Evidence-Based Practice Step by Step
This series is a good place to start when thinking about Evidence Based Practice. Articles are in sequence order.
Melnyk, B. M., Fineout-Overholt, E., Stillwell, S. B., & Williamson, K. M. (2009). Evidence-based practice: Step by step: Igniting a spirit of inquiry: An essential foundation for evidence-based practice. The American Journal of Nursing, 109(11), 49-52. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000363354.53883.58
Melnyk, B. M., Fineout-Overholt, E., Stillwell, S. B., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice: Step by step: The seven steps of evidence-based practice. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(1), 51-53. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000366056.06605.d2
Stillwell, S. B., Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice, step by step: Asking the clinical question: A key step in evidence-based practice. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(3), 58-61. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000368959.11129.79
Stillwell, S. B., Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice, step by step: Searching for the evidence. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(5), 41-47. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000372071.24134.7e
Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., Stillwell, S. B., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice step by step: Critical appraisal of the evidence: Part I. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(7), 47-52. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000383935.22721.9c
Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., Stillwell, S. B., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice, step by step: Critical appraisal of the evidence: Part II: Digging deeper--examining the "keeper" studies. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(9), 41-48. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000388264.49427.f9
Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., Stillwell, S. B., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Evidence-based practice, step by step: Critical appraisal of the evidence: Part III. The American Journal of Nursing, 110(11), 43-51. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000390523.99066.b5
Fineout-Overholt, E., Williamson, K. M., Gallagher-Ford, L., Melnyk, B. M., & Stillwell, S. B. (2011). Following the evidence: Planning for sustainable change. The American Journal of Nursing, 111(1), 54-60. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000393062.83761.c0
Barwick, M. A., Peters, J., & Boydell, K. (2009). Getting to uptake: do communities of practice support the implementation of evidence-based practice? Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 18(1), 16-29.
Benzer, J. K., Charns, M. P., Hamdan, S., & Afable, M. (2017). The role of organizational structure in readiness for change: A conceptual integration. Health Services Management Research, 30(1), 34-46.
Gallagher-Ford, L., Fineout-Overholt, E., Melnyk, B. M., & Stillwell, S. B. (2011). Evidence-based practice, step by step: implementing an evidence-based practice change. American Journal of Nursing, 111(3), 54-60.
McCluskey, A., & Cusick, A. (2002). Strategies for introducing evidence-based practice and changing clinician behaviour: a manager's toolbox. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 49(2), 63-70.