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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Assessing competency in Evidence Based Practice: strengths and limitations of current tools in practice

Dragan Ilic

Author Affiliations

Monash Institute of Health Services Research, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3168, Australia

BMC Medical Education 2009, 9:53  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-9-53

Published: 6 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Evidence Based Practice (EBP) involves making clinical decisions informed by the most relevant and valid evidence available. Competence can broadly be defined as a concept that incorporates a variety of domains including knowledge, skills and attitudes. Adopting an evidence-based approach to practice requires differing competencies across various domains including literature searching, critical appraisal and communication. This paper examines the current tools available to assess EBP competence and compares their applicability to existing assessment techniques used in medicine, nursing and health sciences.

Discussion

Only two validated assessment tools have been developed to specifically assess all aspects of EBP competence. Of the two tools (Berlin and Fresno tools), only the Fresno tool comprehensively assesses EBP competency across all relevant domains. However, both tools focus on assessing EBP competency in medical students; therefore neither can be used for assessing EBP competency across different health disciplines. The Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE) has been demonstrated as a reliable and versatile tool to assess clinical competencies, practical and communication skills. The OSCE has scope as an alternate method for assessing EBP competency, since it combines assessment of cognitive skills including knowledge, reasoning and communication. However, further research is needed to develop the OSCE as a viable method for assessing EBP competency.

Summary

Demonstrating EBP competence is a complex task – therefore no single assessment method can adequately provide all of the necessary data to assess complete EBP competence. There is a need for further research to explore how EBP competence is best assessed; be it in written formats, such as the Fresno tool, or another format, such as the OSCE. Future tools must also incorporate measures of assessing how EBP competence affects clinician behaviour and attitudes as well as clinical outcomes in real-time situations. This research should also be conducted across a variety of health disciplines to best inform practice.