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Nurses have probably always known that their decisions have important implications for patient outcomes. Increasingly, however, they are being cast in the role of active decision makers in healthcare by policy makers and other members of the healthcare team. In the UK, for example, the Chief Nursing Officer recently outlined 10 key tasks for nurses as part of the National Health Service’s modernisation agenda and the breaking down of artificial boundaries between medicine and nursing.1 As well, nurses are expected to access, appraise, and incorporate research evidence into their professional judgment and clinical decision making.2 This active engagement with research evidence is the focus of this paper. We will explore why it is necessary to consider the clinical decision making context when examining the ways in which nurses engage with research based information. We will also consider the relation between the accessibility and usefulness of information from different sources and the decisions to which such information is applied. Finally, we will argue that if we are to encourage nurses to actively engage with research evidence during clinical decision making, we need to better understand the relation between the decisions that nurses make and the knowledge that informs them.
METHODS UNDERPINNING THIS PAPER
In this paper, we draw heavily on the findings of 2 major studies conducted at the University of York between 1997 and 2002.3–9 2 case studies were conducted in 3 geographical areas with different hospital types, population characteristics, and levels of health service provision. We purposively sampled participants according to a sampling frame constructed around variables deemed to be theoretically significant for clinical decision making.7 Data collection comprised 200 indepth interviews with nurses and managers; 400 hours of non-participant observation of “decision making and information use in action”; 4000 practice based documents audited for characteristics such as …
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