Background: Significant emphasis is currently placed on the need to enhance health care decision-making with research-derived evidence. While much has been written on specific strategies to enable these "knowledge-to-action" processes, there is less empirical evidence regarding what happens when knowledge translation (KT) processes do not proceed as planned. The present paper provides a KT case study using the area of health care screening for intimate partner violence (IPV).
Methods: A modified citation analysis method was used, beginning with a comprehensive search (August 2009 to October 2012) to capture scholarly and grey literature, and news reports citing a specific randomized controlled trial published in a major medical journal on the effectiveness of screening women, in health care settings, for exposure to IPV. Results of the searches were extracted, coded and analysed using a multi-step mixed qualitative and quantitative content analysis process.
Results: The trial was cited in 147 citations from 112 different sources in journal articles, commentaries, books, and government and news reports. The trial also formed part of the evidence base for several national-level practice guidelines and policy statements. The most common interpretations of the trial were "no benefit of screening", "no harms of screening", or both. Variation existed in how these findings were represented, ranging from summaries of the findings, to privileging one outcome over others, and to critical qualifications, especially with regard to methodological rigour of the trial. Of note, interpretations were not always internally consistent, with the same evidence used in sometimes contradictory ways within the same source.
Conclusions: Our findings provide empirical data on the malleability of "evidence" in knowledge translation processes, and its potential for multiple, often unanticipated, uses. They have implications for understanding how research evidence is used and interpreted in policy and practice, particularly in contested knowledge areas.