Barriers to evidence-based practice in primary care nursing – why viewing decision-making as context is helpful


  • Carl Thompson DPhil RN,

  • Dorothy McCaughan MSc RN,

  • Nicky Cullum PhD RN,

  • Trevor Sheldon DSc,

  • Pauline Raynor PhD RN

Carl Thompson,
Department of Health Sciences,
University of York,
Area 2,
Seebohm Rowntree Building,
North Yorkshire,
YO10 5DW,


Aim.  This paper reports a study examining the barriers associated with research knowledge transfer amongst primary care nurses in the context of clinical decision-making.

Background.  The research literature on barriers to nurses’ use of research knowledge is characterized by studies that rely primarily on self-report data, making them prone to reporting biases. Studies of the barriers to evidence-based practice often fail to examine information use and behaviour in the context of clinical decision-making.

Methods.  A multi-site, mixed method, case study was carried out in 2001. Data were collected in three primary care organizations by means of interviews with 82 primary care nurses, 270 hours of non-participant observation and 122 Q-sorts. Nurses were selected using a published theoretical sampling frame. Between-methods triangulation was employed and data analysed according to the principles of constant comparison. Multiple linear regression was used to explore relationships between a number of independent demographic variables (such as length of clinical experience) and the dependent variable of nurses’ perspectives on the barriers to their use of research knowledge.

Results.  Three perspectives on barriers to research information use emerged: the need to bridge the skills and knowledge gap for successful knowledge transfer; information formats need to maximize limited opportunities for consumption; and limited access in the context of limited time for decision-making and information consumption. Demographic variables largely failed to predict allegiance to any of the perspectives identified.

Conclusions.  Researchers should consider using decision-making as a contextual backdrop for exploring information use and behaviour, avoid relying solely on self-reported behaviour as data, and use a variety of research methods to provide a richer picture of information-related behaviour. Practice developers need to recognize that understanding the decisions to which research knowledge is to be applied should be a characteristic of any strategy to increase research uptake by nurses.