In nearly every industry, but particularly in health care, it’s common to make decisions based on data and other statistical evidence. Clinical studies and other resources can help health care practitioners, including family nurse practitioners, make the best choices regarding their patients’ needs.
Within the health care sector, there are two main terms used in conjunction with this concept: evidence-based practice and evidence-informed practice. And while they are sometimes used interchangeably by health care providers, there is a slight but important distinction.
Defining evidence-based practice
Nurse practitioners and those working in the health care industry will likely come across evidence-based practice as a concept more often than evidence-informed practice, which we’ll explore more in-depth later.
As defined by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) in 2019, evidence-based practice refers to the process of using the latest and most relevant evidence to guide decisions related to nursing care, with the overarching goal of improving patient outcomes. Evidence-based practice is an evaluative, qualitative, problem-solving approach that leverages the best available information to support nurse practitioners’ decisions.
Evidenced-based practice (EBP) enables nurse practitioners and health care professionals to use relevant evidence in the form of clinical studies and other sources to answer important questions about patient care. As AMSN noted, the process involves:
- Searching for and validating relevant evidence
- Leveraging one’s own clinical experience in the field
- Incorporating details related to the patient’s individual preferences, needs and values
“The EBP process is a method that allows the practitioner to assess research, clinical guidelines and other information resources based on high-quality findings and apply the results to practice,” AMSN stated in 2019.
It can be helpful to think of evidence-based practice as a health care concept that’s similar to the scientific method. An April 2014 research paper from M. Gail Woodbury and Janet L. Kuhnke pointed out that the process starts with a well-developed, answerable question, akin to a hypothesis statement in a scientific experiment. From here, the process follows that explained above, with the search and evaluation of evidence. As Woodbury and Kuhnke noted, though, the process doesn’t end once the initial question has been answered through research validation. Afterward, it’s important for NPs to examine and evaluate the success and effectiveness of their care decisions, and apply these insights to their future practice.
What types of questions can be answered with evidence-based practice?
Nurse practitioners can leverage the evidence-based practice process to find solutions for an array of different health care and treatment-focused questions. Woodbury and Kuhnke provided a few key examples, including questions like:
- How widespread or common is a certain condition or medical complication?
- What is the best approach for assessing the condition or the risks involved?
- Which treatment will be the most clinically or cost effective?
- Which preventive strategies will the patient most likely follow?
- How should the outcome be accurately measured?
Formulating the right questions can help nurse practitioners find the right research sources to guide their decisions. For instance, a question regarding treatment types, therapy or intervention is typically best answered with a systematic review or randomized controlled trial. On the other hand, practitioners seeking to answer questions about patient experiences or concerns should look to the best available qualitative studies.
Defining evidence-informed practice
Evidence-informed practice (EIP), while sometimes used to describe the evidence-based practice process, is actually a bit different.
While evidence-informed practice still relies on the use of the best available research, it typically involves the implementation of a facility-wide program, as opposed to guiding decisions regarding an individual patient case, noted the Child Welfare Information Gateway. EIP is used to support health care policymaking — for instance, the World Health Organization and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research both utilize EIP for their policy decisions, according to Woodbury and Kuhnke’s 2014 research paper.
Overall, evidence-informed practice includes a wider scope than evidence-based practice, and, as Woodbury and Kuhnke noted in their 2014 research paper. EIP also addresses a wider set of goals. In addition, evidence-informed practice in the health care industry can provide more flexibility in terms of evidence sources, encompassing information besides clinical studies like clinical best practice guidelines.
“Critics of EBP have suggested that information used to make clinical decisions should include more than evidence collected with the singular goal of reducing bias in intervention research and should include a variety of sources of research information that address a wider range of goals,” Woodbury and Kuhnke wrote in 2014. “… [EIP] implies that many different levels of evidence and types of evidence are needed and used to support decisions in clinical practice. Many people believe that ‘evidence-informed practice extends beyond the early definitions of evidenced-based practice.'”
What MSN-FNP students can learn through Bradley University’s online program
Nurses studying in Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program will take part in course NUR 526: Evidence-Based Practice. This three-credit course will educate nurses about current study theories as part of gathering health care evidence, as well as the best ways to use this research in their health care practices. During the course, nurses will learn to pinpoint emerging problems across several different practice areas and leverage these scenarios to create a researchable project.
This course provides hands-on experience with the evidence-based practice process and is beneficial training for nurse practitioners.
To find out more, check out our curriculum information, and connect with one of our enrollment advisors today.