OBJECTIVES: To describe the relation between research evidence and local obstetric unit policy for specific areas of care and to explore clinicians' views about the reasons for any discrepancies identified. DESIGN: An independent evaluation of a project undertaken by a district maternity services liaison committee (MSLC) to promote evidence based maternity care in specific areas of care. The evaluation involved a combination of qualitative methodologies including documentary analysis, non-participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and self completed open ended questionnaires. SETTING: One English health district with three obstetric units. MAIN MEASURES: Congruence between unit policies and research evidence in specific areas of care. Views expressed by unit staff concerning the reasons for any discrepancies identified. Consistency between staff views within and between units. Unit attitudes to modification of discrepant policies and details of any subsequent changes made. RESULTS: Of the 12 unit policies considered, seven were consistent with the research evidence. In all cases in which unit policy did not reflect the evidence, provider unit staff thought that the differences were justified. In several cases there were substantive differences of view between staff in different units. No differences of view were expressed between staff in the same unit. There were three different types of concern about the research evidence and the problems of using it as a basis for deciding unit policy. These were: concerns about the adequacy or completeness of the evidence; concerns about the applicability of the evidence in the local setting; and concerns about local capacity to act on the evidence. At the time of the project, none of the units expressed any intention of modifying the policies under discussion. Subsequently, two of them did make changes of this sort. CONCLUSION: The results suggest the need for further research to ascertain what factors may produce such varying assessments of the validity and adequacy of particular sets of research findings as were found between clinicians in this study and to understand what considerations other than views about evidence may affect decisions to alter clinical policy. IMPLICATIONS: When clinicians have clear reasons for not following research evidence, two contrasting responses are possible. One is to take the view that the clinicians are mistaken, and seek to change their attitudes or persuade them to change their behaviour regardless of their views. An alternative response is to accept that the concerns they express may be legitimate and consider how their doubts may be addressed. The challenge is to recognise which response is preferable in any particular situation.
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