Background: The successful dissemination of the results of the National Health Service (NHS) research and development strategy and the development of evidence based approaches to health care rely on clinicians having access to the best available evidence; evidence fit for the purpose of reducing the uncertainties associated with clinical decisions.
Aim: To reveal the accessibility of those sources of information actually used by nurses, as well as those which they say they use.
Design: Mixed method case site, using interview, observational, Q sort and documentary audit data in medical, surgical and coronary care units (CCUs) in three acute hospitals.
Results: Three perspectives on accessibility were identified: (a) the humanist--in which human sources of information were the most accessible; (b) local information for local needs--in which locally produced resources were seen as the most accessible and (c) moving towards technology--in which information technology begins to be seen as accessible. Nurses' experience in a clinical specialty is positively associated with a perception that human sources such as clinical nurse specialists, link nurses, doctors and experienced clinical colleagues are more accessible than text based sources. Clinical specialization is associated with different approaches to accessing research knowledge. Coronary care unit nurses were more likely to perceive local guidelines, protocols and on-line databases as more accessible than their counterparts in general medical and surgical wards. Only a third of text-based resources available to nurses on the wards had any explicit research base. These, and the remainder were out of date (mean age of textbooks 11 years), and authorship hard to ascertain.
Conclusion: A strategy to increase the use of research evidence by nurses should harness the influence of clinical nurse specialists, link nurses and those engaged in practice development. These roles could act as 'conduits' through which research-based messages for practice, and information for clinical decision making, could flow. This role should be explored and enhanced.