What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Health Care?

A clinician reviews data on a laptop.

Thanks to advances in health information technology and the proliferation of digitization, today’s health care providers have access to a wealth of information. Health care professionals can easily supplement their own clinical experience with information from recent studies and trials. This makes it possible to base patient care decisions on the methods that are statistically likely to yield the best results with the lowest level of risk.

The shift toward clinical decision-making supported by a body of readily available clinical data is sometimes known as evidence-based practice. Understanding what evidence-based practice is in health care and how it intersects with the roles of doctors, nurses and other professionals requires an in-depth knowledge of health administration and processes. One way to examine these questions is by pursuing an advanced education, such as an Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) degree.

What Is Evidence-Based Practice?

A helpful starting point may be to define what evidence-based practice is at the most basic level. Evidence-based practice applies a data-driven, scientific approach to patient care decisions. It requires practitioners to critically evaluate evidence and compile information about events methodically. Evidence-based practice formalizes the best clinician practices, policies and procedures and standardizes them to optimize outcomes and efficiency throughout the patient treatment cycle.

The goal of evidence-based practice is to quickly incorporate the best available research, augmented with personal experience and patient preferences, into clinical practice. By doing so, clinicians can improve the quality of care they provide and enhance patient results.

Steps of Evidence-Based Practice

For clinicians, it is important to understand the individual steps of evidence-based practice. Generally speaking, these steps follow the standard scientific method.

1. Pose a Question and Formulate a Hypothesis

First, a clinician poses a question, such as whether exercise reduces blood sugar. Next, they research the question and identify the best evidence to answer it. In this example, proof of exercise and blood sugar levels would be relevant, as would dietary intake and medications used by participants. The clinician then uses that information to form a hypothesis: for example, 30 minutes of exercise three times a week will lower blood sugar regardless of diet or medication.

2. Collect and Study Evidence

The clinician then tests their hypothesis by compiling available evidence. They analyze the data and draw a conclusion, then apply the results in clinical practice. They then form a feedback loop by monitoring the success of treatment based on their conclusion.

The evidence is often identified as the clinical question framed using a method known as PICO. It involves identifying the population (e.g., pre-diabetes patients), selecting a possible intervention (e.g., exercise), comparing what happens when there is no intervention (e.g., no exercise) and identifying the outcome (e.g., reduced blood sugar). The expertise of the clinician and the experiences of other providers inform this model, and while that has limitations, it acts as a starting point for collecting and assembling information to be used as evidence. Often, health care providers already have ample sets of objective observations, like blood tests, that they can use to draw conclusions.

3. Record and Analyze Findings

Modern information systems record and integrate a variety of information that can be linked and correlated just like other forms of evidence. By examining the data from patient histories (as opposed to the anecdotal evidence), it is easy for clinicians to see what treatments worked, test the progression of treatments and come to more informed prognoses. The information that technology collects may help practitioners evaluate evidence directly, such as looking at whether a certain exercise regimen is effective, or indirectly, like noticing that patients’ blood pressure seemed to drop considerably when they received an eczema treatment.

What Are the Benefits of Using Evidence-Based Practice?

There are a number of benefits of using evidence-based practice in health care for both providers and patients. Some examples include:

  • Evidence-based practice helps providers stay up-to-date. Clinical protocols are changing all the time based on new research findings. An evidence-based approach helps providers stay current with emerging modalities.
  • It promotes better clinical decision-making. Evidence-based practice can guide providers through weighing different types of information and help them analyze the information appropriately to ensure they are making the most judicious decisions on behalf of their patients.
  • It promotes patient recovery. Evidence-based care increases the expediency with which patients receive a diagnosis, get treatment and begin their recovery.
  • Evidence-based care provides better risk mitigation. An evidence-based approach helps providers more carefully consider the risks associated with potential treatment paths.

Explore Evidence-Based Practice in Health Care

Evidence-based practice is increasingly widespread within the health care community. To find out more about its application and benefits of evidence-based practice, professionals should consider a formal education in health administration. Explore the USC Price online executive MHA to learn more about how to utilize evidence-based practice in our changing health care system.


Recommended Readings

How Health Care Data Analytics Improves Quality of Care

What Is Value-Based Purchasing, and How Can It Improve Patient Satisfaction?



American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, The EBP Process

Indeed, Role of Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing (5 Benefits)

Johns Hopkins Medicine, Evidence-Based Practice

Science Buddies, Steps of the Scientific Method

Sigma, Improving healthcare quality, patient outcomes, and costs with evidence-based practice