4.1 Evidence-Informed Decision Making

Evidence-Informed Leadership

This section will discuss how leaders influence those around them to make evidence-informed decisions and deliver evidence-informed care. Evidence-informed care is associated with positive outcomes for patients, such as lower rates of injury and mortality, and less burnout and turnover for nurses. Within health care settings, leaders influence organizational culture by promoting the use of evidence and critical thinking. Their quest for evidence-informed excellence is often challenged by competing concerns, such as finances, which can put patients and nurses at risk. Brave leaders are those who seek out evidence and use the best available evidence to guide them.

Let’s begin with a review of evidence-informed practice, also known as evidence-based practice. Whether you are a student, a practicing nurse, or a nurse leader with formal authority within a health care setting, you are expected to use evidence to inform your decisions and your actions.

Nurses and nurse leaders need to know where to locate different types of evidence; they need to determine whether or not it is trustworthy evidence (i.e., valid, reliable); and they need to know how to use it in their practice—whether caring for patients or leading within a health care setting. Schools of nursing, in their undergraduate and graduate programs, include critical thinking and assessment and use of evidence as important learner competencies.

Learning Experience 4.1.1

Watch the following YouTube video:

  1. What is Evidence-Based Practice?” with Ann Dabrow Woods (3:27)

In the video, Dabrow states that the Joanna Briggs Institute is a great source for health care evidence. Look at the Institute’s website. Resources like this are vital to evidence-informed nurse leaders.

Regardless of whether you are a newer nurse or are a leader in a formal role (e.g., unit manager, facility director, chief nursing officer), your decisions need to be informed by evidence. And yet, as emphasized in the video, only a small proportion (20 per cent) of the decisions made in health care are based on evidence. Furthermore, Dabrow Woods states, “It takes 15 to 20 years to get evidence into practice.” What is going on?

After watching the video and considering the previous question, answer the following questions:

  • What should organizational leaders do to promote evidence-informed practice?
  • What should individual nurses do to optimize use of evidence in their practice?

For successful innovation uptake and use, there are three basic clusters of influence that need to be addressed by leaders at all levels of a health care organization: perceptions of the innovation, composition of staff, and contextual information.

Perceptions of the Innovation

The first cluster is perceptions of the innovation. Leaders need to thoughtfully consider how to introduce a new policy or protocol or a new piece of technology or medicine: first impressions count. Leaders need to consider five characteristics of an innovation by asking the following questions before introducing that innovation to their staff:

  1. Will staff perceive the innovation as a benefit to them?
  2. Does the innovation fit with staff’s current needs? (e.g., Will the innovation enhance care delivery?)
  3. Is the innovation easy to understand? Is it simple to do? Complexity (e.g., multiple parts, steps) slows down innovation. Simplicity promotes “spread.”
  4. Is it possible to do a small-scale pilot? Trialability improves the rate of innovation.
  5. Is it possible for staff to observe the innovation in progress, to learn about it and answer any questions or concerns they may have? Observability and trialability often work well together.

Leaders, therefore, need to plan in advance for how they will influence staff’s first impressions of an innovation. Change is frightening to people; we typically resist proposed changes because change often involves extra effort, resources, and time. With the busyness in our lives, we need to know, from leaders, that they are making evidence-informed decisions about proposed changes. Why should we change the status quo?

Learning Exercise 4.1.2

Read Dr. Donald Berwick’s 2003 paper titled “Disseminating Innovations in Health Care.” This classic paper discusses why innovation, or positive change, is difficult to integrate within health care settings.

According to innovation experts such as Dr. Donald Berwick, “failure to use available science is costly and harmful; it leads to overuse of unhelpful care, underuse of effective care, and errors in execution” (2003, p. 1969). For nurses and doctors, our errors can cost injury and even loss of life. Dr. Berwick asks the following set of questions:

  • Why is the gap between knowledge and practice so large?
  • Why do clinical care systems not incorporate the findings of clinical science or copy “best known” practices reliably, quickly, and even gratefully into their daily work simply as a matter of course? (p. 1969)

Composition of Staff

The second cluster of influence that leaders need to think about is the composition of their staff. Leaders cannot impose innovation on their own; they need the right staff helping them out. Without the right complement of helpers, their attempts at innovation will fail. Take a look at Figure 2 in the Berwick paper (2003, p. 1972). For innovation to succeed, you need: innovators, early adopters, and an early majority.

Innovators are the source of proposed positive changes. They are those individuals within an organization that read scientific journals, attend conferences, and keep informed about best practices. They are well connected with sources of evidence outside the organization, and they bring ideas back to the organization.

Early adopters are well connected within the organization. They are the leaders who have influence and authority. They can make things happen, given their formal power within the organization. These leaders believe in the value of innovation, and they support their innovators. As one example, an early adopter leader provides release time and financial support for a nurse educator to attend a conference on medical-surgical practice innovations. The nurse educator brings back great ideas and presents them to the leadership and staff.

Once an early adopter leader recognizes the potential of an innovation, the leader gets to work, planning for how to present the innovation to staff (i.e., how to make the first impression). The leader proposes a pilot and asks for staff volunteers to help. Those staff who step forward to trial the innovation make up the early majority. In many instances, the early majority consists of new graduate nurses who are eager to try something new.

If the pilot has been successful, the rest of the staff—who have observed the positive outcomes from the pilot—will readily adopt the innovation. These staff comprise the late majority. And lastly, there are some staff, the laggards, who remain resistant to change. Leaders should listen to their concerns, but ultimately, if some staff members are uncomfortable with the change, it may be time for them to look for another unit or place of employment.

The laggards typically represent only a small number of staff (16%), and yet leaders often get sidetracked trying to convince them to change. The fact is that they may never change. Leaders, therefore, should focus their energies on the initial 20 per cent of staff at the beginning of the innovation curve (i.e., innovators, early adopters, early majority) who need leadership support: they are the critical mass for positive change.

Contextual Information

The third cluster of influence consists of contextual factors that facilitate or impede innovation within the organization. The leadership and the organizational culture both have major influence over innovation spread. You need evidence-informed leaders (i.e., early adopters) throughout the organization who: (1) promote staff interactions, discussions, and networking across the organization (remember observability?); (2) trust and enable their staff to adapt new ideas to their needs; (3) invest essential resources, supports, and time in innovation; and (4) “walk the talk” or champion the innovations themselves. As Dr. Berwick (2003) wrote about Captain James Cook, an early explorer and innovator and early adopter: “James Cook had to eat his own sauerkraut, and health care leaders who want to spread change must change themselves first” (p. 1974).

Learning Exercise 4.1.3

Answer the following questions:

  1. What kind of leaders would you like to work with? Why?
  2. What kind of organization would you like to work in? Why?

Leaders are essential for creating an open, transparent culture of learning, where everyone is expected to use the evidence to ensure best practice and best possible delivery of care to patients. Leaders are essential for modeling the way for others and providing the necessary information, resources, and supports so that all nurses and other staff have the means to provide quality, safe care to patients. Leaders are essential for promoting a culture of continuous learning, openness, and transparency toward sharing and using evidence to make a difference—what is known as a learning organization.

All members of an organization, staff and leaders alike, are expected to contribute to a learning organization culture.

Research Supports a Healthy Organization

Research on organizations from all different sectors (including industry, business, and health care) has shown that organizations that promote practices associated with learning organizations have significantly better outcomes, such as improved quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. Organizations and their leadership, therefore, are making wise investments when they support cultures that promote continuous learning (Robbins, Garman, Song, & McAlearney, 2012).

Position statements are typically evidence-based documents that can be found on websites of professional organizations, regulatory colleges, unions, and the government. Although these documents are often referenced and fact-checked, they may also include guiding principles that reflect their organization’s mission, vision, and values. It’s important for nurses, therefore, to seek guidance from organizations that reflect professional nursing standards and codes of ethics. For practicing nurses, these documents are great resources, which also provide an introduction to the professional principles that define who we are as nurses.

Evidence-informed leaders are early adopters who seek out the best available evidence and promote evidence-informed practices among their staff. These leaders provide the structures and the processes necessary to spread the use of evidence and innovation throughout their organizations. Evidence-informed leaders do not only seek out the best available evidence, but they use it to drive their decisions—that is to say, they “walk the talk.” Moreover, evidence-informed leaders promote learning organization cultures of transparency and continuous learning.

Leaders influence how others interpret and share evidence, depending on other leadership attributes they possess. As discussed throughout this book, it takes other leadership attributes, such as authenticity, moral integrity, and effective use of power, to make a great leader.

Next: 4.2 Standards of Quality Care


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Leading Change in Health Systems: Strategies for RN-BSN Students Copyright © 2023 by Kathy Andresen DNP, MPH, RN, CNE is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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