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Open Access Research article

The challenges of communicating research evidence in practice: perspectives from UK health visitors and practice nurses

Jennifer E van Bekkum* and Shona Hilton

Author Affiliations

MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

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BMC Nursing 2013, 12:17  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-12-17

Published: 9 July 2013

Abstract

Background

Health practitioners play a pivotal role in providing patients with up-to-date evidence and health information. Evidence-based practice and patient-centred care are transforming the delivery of healthcare in the UK. Health practitioners are increasingly balancing the need to provide evidence-based information against that of facilitating patient choice, which may not always concur with the evidence base. There is limited research exploring how health practitioners working in the UK, and particularly those more autonomous practitioners such as health visitors and practice nurses working in community practice settings, negotiate this challenge. This research provides a descriptive account of how health visitors and practice nurses negotiate the challenges of communicating health information and research evidence in practice.

Methods

A total of eighteen in-depth telephone interviews were conducted in the UK between September 2008 and May 2009. The participants comprised nine health visitors and nine practice nurses, recruited via adverts on a nursing website, posters at a practitioner conference and through recommendation. Thematic analysis, with a focus on constant comparative method, was used to analyse the data.

Results

The data were grouped into three main themes: communicating evidence to the critically-minded patient; confidence in communicating evidence; and maintaining the integrity of the patient-practitioner relationship. These findings highlight some of the daily challenges that health visitors and practice nurses face with regard to the complex and dynamic nature of evidence and the changing attitudes and expectations of patients. The findings also highlight the tensions that exist between differing philosophies of evidence-based practice and patient-centred care, which can make communicating about evidence a daunting task.

Conclusions

If health practitioners are to be effective at communicating research evidence, we suggest that more research and resources need to be focused on contextual factors, such as how research evidence is negotiated, appraised and communicated within the dynamic patient-practitioner relationship.