• evidence;
  • evidence-based;
  • nursing;
  • epistemology;
  • symbol;
  • symbolic interactionism;
  • research;
  • research-based;
  • practice;
  • development

What is the evidence on evidence-based nursing? An epistemological concern

Aim. This paper adopts an epistemological perspective in order to support the assertion that there is very little evidence to support the existence of evidence-based nursing as a distinct construct or process.

Rationale. This analysis of concept meaning is based on the theory of symbolic interactionism. By adopting this theory the commonalities and inconsistencies in the use of evidence-based symbolism by nurses and other health care professionals can be used to evaluate the perceived meaning of the term.

Methods. A frequency analysis of relevant key words in one publications data-base demonstrates the increasing use of evidence-based terminology and its euphemistic status visa vi research. An epistemological analysis is conducted on a sample of concept clarification statements taken from the popular literature, defining the nature of `evidence' and `evidence-based practice'.

Findings. The results of the frequency analysis show that the keywords `evidence-based medicine' revealed 5612 papers, evidence-based practice (EBP) 432 papers, evidence-based nursing 47 papers, evidence-based health care 60 papers, and evidence-based decision making 43. Almost all of these papers have been published since 1995 and the earliest use of the symbol `evidence-based' is 1992. There is also an increase in papers adopting `evidence-based' symbolism along with a commensurate decrease in the use of the term `research' in the nursing context.

Conclusion.  `Evidence-based practice' is commonly a euphemism for information management, clinical judgement, professional practice development or managed care. There is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that evidence-based nursing is a single construct or process that can be distinguished from its concomitants. The term adds little more to the existing long standing traditions of quality assurance and research-based practice. Nurses must avoid the inefficiency brought about by the `intense enthusiasm followed by sad disenchantment' that has been associated with other attempts to introduce innovation in health care delivery (Fienstein & Horowitz 1997).