Aims The aim of this paper was to undertake a brief critical appraisal of evidence-based practice (EBP) as it is currently perceived in health care settings.
Background The past two decades have seen EBP become increasingly important in health care planning, clinical thinking, and choice of treatments. It is based on scientific rationalism and adherents claim that decisions based on EBP are superior to those based on other approaches to care. Concerns are now being expressed that positivistic approaches to health care fail to take into account people’s preferences, their internal resources and their personal understandings of health and wellbeing. It has been argued that there may be multiple types of evidence, all of which have a part to play in the formulation and execution of health care.
Methods After a literature search, this paper argues that whereas EBP may be useful in treating conditions that have a biological cause, it may be less helpful in understanding and treating conditions that have their origins in the social, psychological or spiritual domains.
Results The nature, strengths and limitations of evidence-based practice is discussed in this paper. Nurses are encouraged to develop the critical skills of evaluating EBP in the lives and experiences of the people they care for.
Conclusions Evidence-based practice has a part to play in improving the treatment provided for patients. Nonetheless, nurses should be aware of other kinds of evidence, and appreciate that any single approach to determining care, no matter how popular, is likely to lead to a service that does not truly meet the complex individual needs of patients.
Implications for nursing management In order for evidence-based practice to be safe, the nursing workforce must be able to evaluate the strength and relevance of research findings, and be able to understand that there are different kinds of evidence which should be called upon in order to respond sensitively and appropriately to the preferences of patients. A responsive workforce embraces multiple ways of thinking, respects different paradigms of care, and is able to respond to and respect the forms of care people value and seek.