Evidence-based practice (EBP) is becoming an integral part of the social service sector. However, there is also some controversy over whether evidence-based practice models are truly the best ones to invest in. Funders, particularly governmental agencies, seem to be coming down heavily in favor of EBP, but it is still worthwhile to consider both sides of the issue.
Keep reading to find out why evidence-based practice models are important and what benefit they have to offer your organization.
The Goal of Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)
The most commonly cited definition of EBP is from Dr. David Sackett, which says the EBP is “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.” (Sackett D, 1996)
Prior to the advent of evidence-based practice, a more procedural approach was utilized across the social service sector. This was a matter of necessity more than anything else. The ability to aggregate and analyze data as it became available was non-existent at the time. Furthermore, the idea of considering individual experience when determining plans for treatment was practically unthinkable.
However, as the technology began to change and service providers began to think about their purpose in new ways, it became clear that there were better methods for ensuring that they were using the most up-to-date information for making care decisions. This kind of thinking led to the advent of evidence-based practice, the use of which is still growing today.
The Benefit of Evidence-Based Practice
In the medical field, the meaning of evidence-based practice is clearer than in the social services because treatments are much more cut-and-dry, and what constitutes evidence is somewhat clearer. However, this does not mean that the practice isn’t applicable or important in the social service sector.While it may not always be entirely clear what evidence is relevant in any particular situation, the utilization of evidence-based practice models forces service providers and organizations to think in terms of constantly seeking out new information and analyzing their pre-existing assumptions. Rather than stagnating in a “this is how it’s always been done,” mindset, programs and practices are encouraged to evolve and to constantly be questioning the best way to serve constituents.
There is no question that funders are looking for organizations that are working with evidence-based practice models. The United States governmental agencies, in particular, now have elaborate requirements for funding that often entail the collection of evidence and demonstrations of how that evidence is being used to improve program quality. If for no other reason than continued funding, it is important for social service organizations to assess how they are currently using evidence and whether there are more opportunities for them to embrace this new trend.
We’ve talked before about how technology has truly been the catalyst for enabling evidence-based practice models to come into existence. And yet, many organizations are still working with sub-par technological systems for case management, service delivery, and client tracking. By switching their thinking to an evidence-based approach, organizations also need to look at how they are using technology and often need substantial upgrades or improvements. While this can result in a certain amount of hassle during the time of change, encouraging organizations and service providers to use the available technology in the broadest way possible can often help them substantially improve their outcomes, often with significantly less effort. For this reason, re-evaluation, which is essentially the basis for EBP, helps all of us stay relevant in a time when things are changing frequently.
It seems clear that while there are still kinks to be worked out, evidence-based practice models are here to stay. If the social service sector can maintain a focus on why this new approach is useful and all of the benefits it can provide, we will certainly all be able to reap many benefits from this change.