Introduction to EBP in Optometry

60 mins


"application of knowledge to decision making in optometric practice"


EBP involves

Acquisition and use of:

                        Information skills

                        Critical appraisal skills

                        Basic statistics knowledge and skills

                        Interpretation skills                 +

     Clinical application of these skills.

EBP is becoming embedded in Competency Based Occupational Standards

In all health professions including medicine:

            e.g. In Speech Pathology EBP is listed as the first principle of competent practice

                   “In all work contexts and decision-making, the speech pathologist must consider the recommended evidence base for the speech pathology practice.”

            Reference:  Speech Pathology Australia. Competency Based Standards p.8, 2011.

How are EBP skills acquired?

The BOptom programme is designed to provide you with these skills by way of activities presented across the courses in the whole programme:

          You are encouraged to review and be critical of the original sources of knowledge. 

          Some elements of EBP skills are being emphasised in this OPTOM 472 Vision Science 3 course (e.g. the statistics, the critical appraisal, and interpretation).

          Courses with problem based learning require EBP skills

          The final year research project is a major application of EBP skills.

Summary of what EBP is for the clinical professions

These summary statements from the University of Minnesota ( )

provide an excellent overview:

 “Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is a thoughtful integration of the best available evidence, coupled with clinical expertise.  As such it enables health practitioners of all varieties to address healthcare questions with an evaluative and qualitative approach.  EBP allows the practitioner to assess current and past research, clinical guidelines, and other information resources in order to identify relevant literature while differentiating between high-quality and low-quality findings.  

The practice of Evidence-Based Practice includes five fundamental steps.

Step 1: Formulating a well-built question

Step 2: Identifying articles and other evidence-based resources that answer the question

Step 3: Critically appraising the evidence to assess its validity

Step 4: Applying the evidence

Step 5: Re-evaluating the application of evidence and areas for improvement.”

Evidence based practice is important because:

The literature contains an ever increasing amount of information relevant to the practitioner

The number of researchers working and publishing in all areas of clinical practice is high and the knowledge and understanding of clinical areas is always improving.

It is essential that practitioners keep abreast of developments in their field to maintain patient safety.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is mandatory and the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board requires evidence that you are undertaking regular CPD for the renewal of your annual practicing certificate.

Some CPD providers use speakers who bring an EBP approach to their presentations.

Evidence based review resources are often available.  These resources synthesise and critically appraise the literature that is available in selected areas.  They provide practitioners exposure to a greater variety of evidence.

There are still unanswered questions in relation to clinical care.

Resources for Evidence Based Practice are easy to use and you can search for answers to clinical questions.

Research findings are slow to become integrated into clinical practice.

It can take many years for recommendations to be adopted when an EBP is not part of practice.

          e.g. visual acuity measurements still use non-logarithmic charts for some practitioners.  In March I answered an enquiry from a graphic designer who wanted to produce a 2012 version of the 1950’s British Standard chart.

EVIDENCE BASED PRACTICE MODEL from University of Minnesota


STEP 1 Formulate the question

In order to search the EBP resources you first need to decide what you are looking for

            the Patients condition, disorder, disease

                        How would I describe a group of patients similar to this one patient

            the Intervention or Finding you want to know about

                        Define which intervention you are considering for this group of patients

            a Comparison intervention or finding (if applicable)

            the Outcomes you want to know about.

                        May be as simple as a comparison of cost effectiveness

                        May be a change in a physical sign, outcome of a diagnostic test, response to therapy

Apply PICO as a systematic way of identifying the important concepts in a case and formulating the search question.

STEP 2 Search the Databases / Resources

Categories of information resources:

            General information resources

                        Provide background information

                        Useful for conditions that are outside your area of good knowledge

                        Will give you an overview that will help you formulate more specific questions.

                        e.g. Wikipedia

            Filtered resources

                   Clinical specialists and subject specialists have posed questions and then undertaken the search to come to conclusions based on the resources they find.

                   You the searcher can look at the results of other people’s searches.

                   You still need to evaluate the “filtered” results and also whether the actual question that is being answered is close enough to your question to have provided useful answers.

                   e.g. Cochrane database of systematic reviews,

                   e.g. PsycBITE –  a project that rates the methodological quality of research papers dealing with Brain-Impairment treatments - includes the discipline of optometry.
It is possible that one day there will be a similar project dealing with aspects of vision.

          Unfiltered resources

                   You will need to come to these if your question (or a similar one) has not already been the topic of a review.

                   You are going back to the primary literature yourself

                        e.g. Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, PubMed, Google Scholar, others.

                        Full text publications available free through the UoA library


STEP 3: Critically appraise the evidence to assess its validity

If the evidence is from a reviewing source that can be trusted (e.g. Cochrane Systematic reviews) then your task is to see whether the review actually answers the question you are asking

If the evidence is from a primary source then you need to check the strength and validity of the evidence yourself.  The following can be a guide

            Was the question addressed in the publication formulated well?

            Were the methods designed to enable the question to be addressed appropriately

                        e.g. were the participants selected appropriately,
                                     assigned to “treatment groups” appropriately
                                    (e.g. randomly or with a balanced design)

            Were the results and the statistical analyses valid

            Were the conclusions supported by the results and analyses.

The research design can also guide you in appraising the evidence.  A six-level hierarchy of research designs is often presented to assist the critical appraisal process.  The best quality design is at the top of the list.  Sometimes this list is presented as a pyramid because the best quality design (a systematic review) is also the most rare.

/                   Systematic Reviews             \

/                Randomised Controlled trials        \

/                          Cohort Studies                              \

/                              Case-Control Studies                      \

/                            Case Series, Case reports                           \

/                               Editorials, Expert Opinion                              \


Evidence-based decisions for patient care should be based on the highest level research design available for the question that has been formulated.  Case series and case reports is usually the minimum level of evidence required and most clinical questions require higher levels of evidence.


STEP 4: Apply the evidence

Once you are happy that the study is valid and is of sufficiently high quality, you need to decide how to apply the information obtained to the question you formulated in step 1.  This may need some clinical experience to understand how well the study applies to your situation.  You may be wise to consult colleagues to clarify your thinking.


STEP 5: Re-evaluate the application of evidence and look for areas for improvement

This is where you evaluate how well your decision (based on the evidence collected) applied to your individual patient.  This evaluation could involve:

          questions about how successful the treatment was if your decision was related to treatment

          questions about whether the EBP process you used could be improved

          even re-visiting the literature to see if any new information is available after the original search.


Take Home Message:

An optometrist who has Evidence Based Practice skills will be able to evaluate the new literature critically and will be able to apply valid research knowledge to clinical practice earlier.


Other sources of help on this topic

In addition to the modules on EBP at the University of Minnesota  other sources include:

University of Illinois at Chicago

and other modules in the left hand column.  (last accessed May 2012)

See the attached word document for an easily downloadable copy of the information above.

Resource contributed by: A/Professor Robert Jacobs
Institution: Department of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Auckland.
E-mail: r.jacobs [at]
Notes: A/Prof Jacobs is happy for this resource to be used with attribution. If you have questions about the resource, please contact A/Prof Jacobs.
Date uploaded:  19/2/2013
Latest review:  19/2/2013
Reviewed by:  K. Challinor
Next review due:  December 2014


Go to top