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This guide contains resources from the University Library to support your study and research in Nursing.
Evidence-Based Practice: an Interprofessional Tutorial

This tutorial from the University of Minnesota walks you through the steps of EBP with practice questions for Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Public Health, Physical Therapy and other health fields at each step.

Evidence-based practice is about using the best available evidence (eg the results of case studies, cohort studies, clinical trials, etc) to inform clinical practice.

The steps in locating evidence include:

  • Identifying the clinical problem
  • Formulating a relevant answerable question
  • Selecting the best sources to search
  • Searching for and appraising the evidence that you find
  • Assessing its relevance to your question
  • Acting on or applying the evidence to your clinical situation

In formulating a question, a good technique to use is to take your clinical problem and apply the PICO method.

The PICO Model:

PICO stands for:-

Patient, Population or Problem

Intervention or exposure



In practice, well-built clinical questions usually contain these four elements.

What does it mean to search for evidence-based literature? Isn't searching Google enough? The answer is No. Google, and other search engines "scrape" information on the Internet using proprietary algorithms. This means that the search engines control your search, you don't. This may not be a problem if you're searching for things to buy, consumer reviews, or websites of organizations. But since search engines find information of all kinds, much of it opinion based, you need to use another tool when you're conducting evidence-based research. Article databases focus on the professional, scientific literature and are usually indexed, so that you can create a search to more precisely find reliable scientific evidence on your topic.

The evidence hierarchy pyramid shows you how reliable different types of research are. The lower levels contain information that is based on less evidence, such as expert opinion or very early experiments. Higher up the pyramid, the amount of literature decreases, but it is based on more evidence and thus is more reliable. 


Primary Literature (Unfiltered Literature)

Case series / Case reports: reports on the treatment of one or more individual patients. There are no control groups to compare outcomes. This type of research has little statistical validity.

Case control studies: patients who already have a specific condition are compared with people who do not have the condition, looking back in time to identify factors that might be associated with the illness. Case control studies often rely on medical records & patient recall for data collection, so their reliability is limited.

Cohort studies: compare a group of patients who are already under a specific treatment with a similar group not affected by the treatment. Both groups are are followed over time. Cohort studies are observational, so their reliability is limited.

Randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs): carefully planned experiments that look at the effects of a treatment on real patients in real time. To reduce the potential for bias, randomization and blinding are used in the selection of patients and treatments. Patients are assigned to treatment and control groups randomly; patients and clinicians (& sometimes laboratories) do not know who is in which group and thus who is receiving treatment or not. This allows the groups to be directly compared. RCTs can provide sound evidence of cause and effect and are considered the gold standard for experimental research.

Secondary Literature (Filtered Literature)

Systematic Reviews: answer a specific question, using the results of an extensive literature search that identifies studies with sound and similar methodologies. The studies are reviewed, assessed for quality and the results are summarized according to the standards of the question that is being reviewed.

Meta-analyses: thoroughly examine a number of valid studies on a topic and mathematically combine the results using statistical methodology to report the results of the analysis as if it were one large study. 

Searching for Evidence-Based Medicine in PubMed (Medline)
*Note: Medline is included in PubMed. When you search PubMed, you are searching Medline

There are several publication types in Medline that indicate that an article is useful for evidence based practice. If you limit your search to include each of these publication types you should get references to most articles indexed in Medline that are appropriate for evidence based practice.

Both of these experimental designs use a control group:

As does this one:

A statistical analysis that allows the results of several studies to be pooled to provide more reliable EBP data.

Should be a list of evidence based serial statements to assist in diagnosis and treatment of particular conditions.

This is the gold standard for Evidence Based Practice.

PubMed Clinical Queries:

Four study categories are provided:

  • Therapy
  • Diagnosis
  • Etiology
  • Prognosis

You can choose the emphasis to be either specificity or sensitivity

  • Specificity (a narrow search - mostly relevant articles but probably omitting a few)
  • Sensitivity (a broad search - most relevant articles but probably some less relevant ones too).

For details see the PubMed Clinical Queries Filter Table which explains sensitive (broad) and specific (narrow) searches and approximate equivalents in the PubMed query language.

There is also a Systematic Reviews filter (a pre-determined search strategy) which can be appended to any search