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What is an Evidence-Based Practice and Why should you care?

I first heard the phrase “evidence-based” about fifteen years ago, when I was working as a doula and parent educator in Austin, TX. One of the OBGyns wore a button with the phrase, “I practice evidence-based medicine.” I asked him what that meant and he replied, “I practice medicine based on the most current scientific information available.” I naively asked, “Don’t all doctors?” “No, they don’t,” he responded and added his life mission was to change that.

This doctor lectured, wrote, and talked to anyone who’d listen and passionately advocated for change. Over the next few years, as I provided prenatal and/or postpartum support to over 1000 women (as a doula, childbirth, and parent educator), it became observable that we have a problem in the US and evidence-based medicine is not being implemented. I listened to mothers grieve as they shared their birth stories. I also witnessed poor birth outcomes, which were preventable.

The evidence to support my and the doctor’s claims are available. The US currently has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the world and our rates are rising! We are doing horribly in the area of infant mortality too. In the CDC’s own report; the US ranked 26th out of 29 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for infant mortality.

With the awareness that many other countries are doing significantly better than we are, it is also evident that it is not because we don’t have the knowledge or resources to assist women and babies so they stay alive and thrive. This is a systemic problem. This powerful example demonstrates the importance of demanding evidence-based medicine.

Infant Mortality Rates of OECD countries (Source: www.cdc.gov)

Now, imagine the unthinkable. One of your loved ones needs medical attention requiring immediate and life-saving surgery. Would you want a surgeon that uses the techniques that have the most research behind their success and ability to save your loved one’s life? Or would you go with the surgeon that you’ve known for a long time, that prefers to operate the way they “have always done it”– even if that means the chance of your loved one dying is higher? Is that a chance you would take?

The answers to these examples may seem obvious because they are high stakes and the risk/outcomes are immediate. Although not using evidence-based practices (or EBPs) may not always be life-threatening, they are still essential in many fields beyond medicine. As an educator and research scientist, along with my colleagues, I have worked tirelessly to change the culture around EBPs in schools, community service agencies, and at the legislative level to help bring awareness about why they should be standard practice.

Evidence-based-practices help people reach their highest potential and save lives!

Simply put, evidence-based practices are those services, interventions, strategies, and/or programs that have strong scientific evidence that they produce the desired outcome. Practices and interventions do not become “evidence-based” because one person or one team thinks they are “great” or they have a “feeling” about the potential. Many people read an article about an intervention or practice and believe that because it was in an academic journal it must be “evidence-based”.

Remember, one study is not enough for a practice to become “evidence-based” — studies must be replicated, research must be scientifically valid, and programs/practices must be implemented skillfully (and as designed).

It is my hope that this article inspires you to incorporate EBPs into your work. If you are wondering how to get started here are a few ideas:

  • Contact your professional organization, many frequently offer training or can help you find resources.
  • Look for a learning community in your district or online (or start one)
  • If you are an educator, check out the What Works Clearinghouse. The site is easily searchable by grade level and topic.
  • Download this free handout about Five Substantial Ways EBP benefit educators to help get your team members on board.
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An edited version of an article originally published at robinharwick.com on December 17, 2017.

Written by

Author, Educator, Researcher, Survivor, and Youth & Family Advocate. robinharwick.com

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