The Postmodernist Critique of Evidence-Based Practice

Thursday, 16 July 2009: 10:30 AM

Peter D. O'Halloran, PhD, MSc, BSc, RN
Research Unit, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Sam Porter, PhD
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Jennifer McGaughey, BSc, MSc, RNT
The School of Nursing & Midwifery Research Unit, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Ireland

In this paper, we examine the postmodernist argument that evidence-based practice (EBP) should be rejected by nurses because it restricts the sources of knowledge used by practitioners. Three main postmodernist criticisms are identified and discussed. First, that the notion of ‘best evidence’ implies a hierarchical and exclusivist approach to knowledge. We accept this argument, noting that such a hierarchy is accepted and justified by many of its proponents. Second, that the hierarchy embraced by the evidence-based practice movement damages health care because it excludes other forms of evidence that are needed to understand the complexity of care. We accept that some manifestations of EBP, notably the Cochrane Collaboration, have devalued qualitative evidence. Using our previous experience of conducting Cochrane reviews (McGaughey et al. 2007), we argue that this limits explanatory scope. Third, that it fails to take account of individuals or their experience. Here, we use evidence of the use by midwives of EBP policies and protocols to the detriment of including women in decision-making processes (Porter et al. 2007) to accept that there is also some merit to this critique. We conclude that, while it is not necessary to concur with the total rejection of EBP that postmodernists advocate, it is necessary to address the issues they raise in order to ensure that EBP better fits the requirements of nursing.
McGaughey, J., Alderdice, F., Fowler, R., Kapila, A., Mayhew, A., Moutray, M., 2007. Outreach and Early Warning Systems (EWS) for the prevention of Intensive Care admission and death of critically ill adult patients on general hospital wards. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD005529. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005529.pub2.

Porter, S., Crozier, K., Sinclair, M., Kernohan, W., 2007. New midwifery? A qualitative analysis of midwives’ decision-making strategies. Journal of Advanced Nursing 60 (6), 525-534.