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The paths from research to improved health outcomes
  1. Paul Glasziou, PhD, MBBS1,
  2. Brian Haynes, PhD, MD2
  1. 1University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Evidence-based practice aims to provide clinicians and patients with choices about the most effective care based on the best available research evidence. To patients, this is a natural expectation. To clinicians, this is a near impossible dream. The US report Bridging the quality chasm has documented and drawn attention to the gap between what we know and what we do.1 The report identified 3 types of quality problems—overuse, underuse, and misuse. It suggested “The burden of harm conveyed by the collective impact of all of our healthcare quality problems is staggering.” Although attention has focused on misuse (or error), a larger portion of the preventable burden is likely to be the evidence-practice gaps of underuse and overuse.

Research that should change practice is often ignored for years—for example, crystalloid (rather than colloid) for shock,2 supine position after lumbar puncture,3 bed rest for any medical condition,3 and appropriate use of anticoagulants and aspirin in patients with atrial fibrillation.4 Antman et al documented the substantial delays between cardiovascular trial results and textbook recommendations.5 However, even when best practices are well known, they are often poorly implemented: national surveys show that most hypertensive patients are undetected, untreated, or inadequately controlled,6 which has led to the current interest in knowledge translation.7


What role does evidence-based practice 8 have in bridging the research-practice gap? Surveys of clinicians suggest that a major barrier to using current research evidence is the time, effort, and skills needed to access the right information among the massive volumes of research.9 Even for a (mythical) up to date clinician, the problem of maintaining currency is immense. Each year Medline indexes >560 000 new articles, and Cochrane Central adds about 20 000 new randomised trials. This is about 1500 new articles and 55 …

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