Ask King Charles II: “Why do we need evidence-based practice?”

Want to know the value of evidence in practice?  You might ask King Charles II (or at least his physicians who survived him).   Check out what happens when much of the evidence for practice was based on tradition & experts: (5:27).

Everyone agrees…..patients deserve the best care we can give now, even though we won’t know everything about anything until we know everything about everything (RCH personal communication)

Critical thinking:  What is one practice that you learned in nursing school, that has already changed?   Why did it change?QUESTION

For some evidence that you can probably put to use right away to give patient-centered, family-centered care, check out this user friendly summary from UCSD! (4:48)


“Is it?” “It is!” Expert opinion as valuable evidence for practice.

“Is it?” “It is!” Expert opinion as valuable evidence for practice..

“Is it?” “It is!” Expert opinion as valuable evidence for practice.

Remember back when you asked your mom why you should make your bed, set the table, or do some other then-distasteful task? Maybe you said, “Do I have to?”

Because I Said SoRemember her answer? Sometimes it was just: “Because I said so!” Was that enough evidence to support your practice of setting the table or making your bed?  You bet! After all she was THE expert on such things.

Likewise…is expert opinion good evidence for your practice? Yes, it is. EXPERT OPINION of individuals or committees is the 7th level of evidence for nursing practice (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005), and should be considered.

Of course the first question that you must ask is: “Is the person/committee (who is telling you how to prevent falls, promote safety, teach patients, and so on and on) an actual EXPERT on that topic?” The answer is a matter of judgment. If the person/committee has special education, credentials, or experience or is a recognized authority on the topic about which they are giving advice, then you could reasonably conclude yes, they are experts. In that case the advice should be considered evidence for practice.    (Caution: Your judgment of their expertise matters!–don’t just follow along.  Don’t forget that person who is expert in one area may not be an expert in another.)

The 2nd question that you must ask is; “Does any research or stronger level of evidence exist on the topic?”

  • If it does NOT exist, then you should use that expert opinion in combination with scientific principles, anecdotal case reports, and theory. Or you might create some new research yourself. (Source=Iowa EBP Model)
  • If it DOES EXIST, then you should pay most attention to the stronger evidence and interpret the weaker evidence of expert opinion in that light.

QUESTIONCritical thinking:  Try your new knowledge in this example. Many educators and professionals who run journal clubs consider journal clubs effective based on feedback from participants. At least in 2008, 80% of experimental studies suggested that journal clubs helped with learning and being able to critically review a research article. However, no research is available on whether the learning from journal clubs actually translates into practice (Deenadayalan et al., 2008). You are considering a journal club. What would you decide to do and why?

For more, see:

“What it is.” – a primer on descriptive studies

What is a “single descriptive or qualitative study”?

A single descriptive or qualitative study is a study in which the researcher watches and listens, then describes what s/he sees and hears. In these studies the researcher does NOT try out a new treatment and measure the results. The descriptive researcher only describes.

The description may be reported in:

  • Numbers & Statistics (called a quantitative study) OR
  • Words & Themes (called a qualitative study).

If the researcher reports BOTH numbers/statistics AND word/themes, it is called a mixed methods study.

Descriptive studies are listed as pretty weak evidence for changing practice, but remember that it is weak only in terms of Not being able to show that one event is causing another event.   They are still excellent in terms of describing what is.    (For more on strength of evidence refer back to: “I like my coffee—and my evidence—strong!)

CRITICAL THINKING: (sing with me) “One of theseQUESTION things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you guess which one is not like the other?” Two are descriptive studies. One is not.

  1. Thomas, D., et al., (2015). Pediatric Pain Management in the Emergency Department: The Triage Nurses’ Perspective. The aims of the study were to describe the triage pain treatment protocols used, knowledge of pain management modalities, and barriers and attitudes towards implementation of pain treatment protocols.
  2. Ucuzal & Dogan. (2015). Emergency nurses’ knowledge, attitude and clinical decision making skills about pain. The aim of this study was to examine emergency nurses’ knowledge, attitude and clinical decision-making skills about pain.
  3. Harrison et al., (2015). Sweet tasting solutions for reduction of needle-related procedural pain in children aged one to 16 years.  The aim of the study was to determine the efficacy of sweet tasting solutions or substances for reducing needle-related procedural pain in children beyond one year of age.

“Watch & Learn!” – Systematic Reviews of Non-experimental Studies

Today’s top tip: Want to find the strongest research evidence for your project?   Go to & add the strongest type of research designs as one of your search terms. For example, add the terms meta-analysis or systematic review to your other search terms. **********************************************

Now to the new!  What is a systematic review of descriptive studies? [Note: For information on stronger levels of research “I like my coffee (and my evidence) strong!)]Cat Fishbowl2

First, remember that in a descriptive study, the researcher merely watches or listens to see what is happening. Descriptive studies do not test interventions.

Second, a systematic review (not to be too silly) is a review that is done systematically in order to include all literature on a particular topic . The authors will tell us where they searched for studies, what search terms they used, and what years they searched. That way we can feel sure that all relevant articles are included.

Therefore, in a systematic review of descriptive studies the authors

  • Collect non-experimental studies related to the problem they are trying to solve,
  • Critically review them, &
  • Write up that analysis for you and me.

You won’t see a lot of numbers or statistics in these reviews of non-experimental studies.

Systematic review of descriptive studies are weaker than other levels of evidence in part because they are critical reviews of non-experimental studies in which the researchers only observed subjects. Those non-experimental studies that they are reviewing may be quantitative with results reported in numbers or qualitative with results reported in words.

Here’s an example with results reported in words (qualitative): Yin, Tse, & Wong (2015) systematically reviewed studies for what factors affect RNs giving PRN opioids in the postop period.   They searched publications 2000-2012 and ended up with 39 relevant studies. Within those 39 articles were descriptive studies that identified 4 basic influences on opioid PRN administration by RNs to postop patients: “(i) nurses’ knowledge and attitudes about pain management; (ii) the situation of nurses’ work practices in administrating range orders for opioid analgesics; (iii) factors that influenced nurses’ work practices; and (iv) perceived barriers to effective pain management from the nurse’s perspective.” [note: In this study a few of the 39 studies were experimental in which something was done to subjects and then outcomes measured, and Yin et al., commented separately on what those showed.]

Critical thinking: What are key differences between a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and a systematic review of QUESTIONdescriptive studies?

Reference found with search terms: review of descriptive studies nursing pain – Yin, H.H.,Tse, M.M., & Wong, F.K. (2015). Systematic review of the predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing factors which influence nursing administration of opioids in the postoperative period. Japan Journal of Nursing Science, doi: 10.1111/jjns.12075.


Cohort & Case-controlled studies: Going forward & backward

Got a clinical problem?  You probably want to solve it with evidence—STRONG evidence.   Click on this link to see one well-accepted hierarchy from strongest #1 to weakest #7 (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005).   Today let’s look at the 4th strongest level of evidence = Case controlled or cohort studies

First a quick review

Click here for a quick review of the strongest 2 levels of evidence (#1 Systematic reviews, Meta-analyses, or Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines based on systematic review of RCTs. #2 Randomized controlled trials)

Click here for a review of the 3rd strongest type of evidence (#3Controlled trials without randomization)

Now on to the new “stuff”  strong

All 3 of the top, strongest levels of evidence are experimental studies (or include available experimental studies). That means the researcher actually does something or gives a treatment to some of the subjects and then records the outcomes. 

The weaker 4 levels of evidence are non-experimental designs. This means that the researcher merely observes & does Not do anything to subjects. So how does that work?!

First, a cohort study (non-experimental). A cohort study starts with a group of people who have something in common and then the researcher observes only & keeps collecting data from them over a long time into the future. Data collection into the future is called a prospective study. An example is the Nurses’ Health Study, in which over 20,000 nurses were identified and followed-up annually with tests and surveys for over 25 years (this study is still ongoing). These studies provide very valuable information, but are obviously very expensive and time-consuming.”(OMERAD EBM course, 2008)

Now a case-controlled study (non-experimental).  In a case controlled study the researcher observes only & collects data over time into the past (not the future). Data collection into the past is called a imagesCAH6C8NTretrospective study. Again, from the OMERAD EBM (2008) site this example: “Patients with a disease are identified who have suffered a bad outcome such as death or recurrence, and compared with patients who have the disease but haven’t suffered the bad outcome. For example, a researcher might  identify a group of breast cancer patients who have died…, and compare them with a similar group of patients with breast cancer who are still living.”

Critical thinking: Which of these would be better for casQUESTIONe-controlled study and which for cohort study.

  1. You are a runner in the Los Angeles marathon and you are interested in how that race can improve cardiovascular health among those who finish. Question: Cohort or Case controlled?
  2. Some finishers of the LA marathon die of heart attacks 20 years later; many survive another 40 years.   Question: Cohort or Case controlled?

For more info see:


Of Mice and Cheese: Research with Non-equivalent Groups

Last week’s blog focused on the strongest types of evidence that you might find when trying to solve a clinical problem. These are: #1 Systematic reviews, Meta-analyses, or Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines based on systematic review of RCTs; & #2 Randomized controlled trials. (For levels of evidence from strongest to weakest, see blog “I like my coffee (and my evidence) strong!”)

So after the two strongest levels of evidence what is the next strongest? #3 level is controlled trials without randomization. (Sometimes called quasi-experimental studies.)

Here’s an example of a controlled trial without randomization: I take two groups of mice and test two types of cheese to find out which one mice like best. I do NOT randomly assign the mice to groups. The experimental group #1 loved Swiss cheese, & the control group #2 refused to eat the cheddar. I assume confidently that mice LOVE Swiss cheese & do NOT like cheddar. What’s the problem with my conclusion? If you want to know, then read on!swiss cheese

In my mouse Controlled Trial Without Randomization, the groups were formed by convenience and Not randomly assigned. Thus, any difference in outcomes between groups might be related to some pre-existing difference between groups. My outcome of mice loving Swiss & hating Cheddar might have nothing to do with the experimental treatment.   In fact, I did not know that all my mice in the Swiss cheese group #1 hadn’t eaten in 2 days, and my mice in the cheddar group #2 had just had a full lunch. Ooops.

On the other hand if I had randomly assigned all the mice to two groups, then I could be relatively confident that all little differences between group members were evenly distributed to both groups, so that the groups were equivalent. My two mouse-groups would have probably ended up with a pretty even distribution of both hungry and not-so-hungry mice.   Then if my Swiss cheese group devoured the Swiss and my cheddar group rejected the cheddar, I could be more certain that mice love Swiss and dislike cheddar.

Happy evidence hunting!

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