50 SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2
Barriers to implementing evidence-based practice in a
private intensive care unit in the Eastern Cape
P Jordan, PhD; C Bowers, M Cur; D Morton, PhD
Department of Nursing Science, School of Clinical Care Sciences, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Corresponding author: C Bowers (Candice.Bowers2@nmmu.ac.za)
Background. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) have been promoted to enhance the delivery of patient care, reduce cost, increase patient and
family satisfaction and contribute to professional development. Individual and organisational barriers can hamper the implementation of EBP,
which can be detrimental to healthcare delivery.
Objective. To determine the individual and organisational implementation barriers of EBP among nurses in a private intensive care unit (ICU).
Methods. A quantitative research design was used to collect data from nurses in a private ICU in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.
The structured questionnaire (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.72) was administered to 70 respondents, with a response rate of 93%.
Results. Barriers at individual level were identified, and include lack of familiarity with EBP, individual perceptions that underpin clinical
decision-making, lack of access to information required for EBP, inadequate sources to access evidence, inability to synthesise the literature
available, and resistance to change. Barriers related to organisational support, change and operations were identified.
Conclusion. Although the findings were similar to other studies, this study showed that nurses younger than 40 years of age were more
familiar with the concepts of EBP. Physicians were perceived as not being very supportive of EBP implementation. In order to enhance
healthcare delivery in the ICUs, nurse managers need to take cognisance of the individual and organisational barriers that might hamper the
implementation of EBP.
S Afr J Crit Care 2016;32(2):50-54. DOI:10.7196/SAJCC.2016.v32i2.253
Evidence-based practice (EBP) is increasingly
being recognised in healthcare institutions as
a pivotal component in patient care delivery.
EBP is defined as the conscientious, explicit
and judicious use of current best evidence in
making decisions about the care of individual
patients, and the integration of best research
evidence with clinical expertise and patient
values. EBP in healthcare aims to provide
quality patient care by utilising the best
available and valid scientific evidence. EBP
is achieved by accessing the best available
evidence for clinical decision-making.
However, other facets related to EBP should
also be considered, namely clinical expertise,
patient values, circumstances and the context
of the working environment.
Nurses are the largest group of healthcare
providers globally and therefore have a key
role in ensuring the promotion and delivery of
quality healthcare and services. EBP can lead
to enhanced quality of patient care, reduced
costs, improved patient and family satisfaction,
individual and professional development of
nurses, enhanced organisational performance
and changed outcomes. Moreover, EBP
utilisation, based on international standards,
enhances the quality of nursing clinical
practice and promotes the best level of care
for patients.[5-7] EBP is important for the pro-
fessional development, responsibility, and
capabilities of healthcare practitioners, and
many institutions are striving to integrate it
into daily practice. In addition, nurses who use
EBP have been shown to make better decisions
in service delivery. However, there are many
barriers to implementing EBP, both individual
and organisational barriers.
Barriers at the level of the individual
professional might include the individual’s
attitude, perceptions, knowledge and practices
related to EBP. For instance, a study by Jordan
et al. in public and private intensive care
units (ICUs) in the Nelson Mandela Bay
municipality, Eastern Cape Province, South
Africa (SA) revealed that the majority of nurses
(80 - 85%) did not use EBP as a basis for clinical
decision-making. The respondents were
shown rather to base their clinical decision-
making on tradition, what they had been
taught in the unit, or on ritualistic practices.
Organisational barriers might include a lack of
managerial support for EBP implementation,
resistance to change, unavailability of
resources, and poor facilitation and support
for the implementation of EBP. Additional
organisational barriers include lack of time to
read literature and a heavy workload.[6,10]
The study aimed to explore and describe the
individual and organisational barriers to the
implementation of EBP in a private ICU.
A positivistic, quantitative, exploratory
research design was used for the study.
Sampling and study
The research population consisted of 75 profe-
ssional nurses in a private ICU in the Nelson
Mandela Bay municipality, Eastern Cape,
SA. Sampling was not undertaken as all
professional nurses who worked in the adult
ICU and who were willing to participate in the
study were included. Of the 75 questionnaires
distributed, 70 were returned, thus achieving
a response rate of 93%.
Data were collected by means of a ques-
tionnaire, which included fixed-response
items. The questionnaire measured the
• Demographic data. A self-constructed five-
item measurement was developed to assess
the demographic profile (gender, age, years
This open-access article is distributed under
Creative Commons licence CC-BY-NC 4.0.
SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2 51
SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2 51
working in the ICU and the position held; additional qualifications)
of the respondents.
• Individual barriers. A 12-item self-constructed measurement was
sourced from Gerrish and Cook and Kocaman et al. A five-
point Likert scale, which ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5)
strongly agree, was used.
• Organisational barriers. An 18-item self-constructed measurement
was sourced from Brown et al. and Kajermo et al. A five-point
Likert scale was used.
Cronbach’s alpha was used to calculate the internal consistency of the
measuring scale. From the statistical analysis, it can be concluded that
the instrument was reliable as a score of 0.72 was obtained for the items.
Prior to data collection, ethical clearance was obtained from an
institutional academic ethics committee (ethics no.: H11-HEA-
NUR-008), and a healthcare institutional ethics committee. In addition,
permission to conduct the study was obtained from the hospital and
the unit managers in the ICU. Written consent from the respondents
was obtained prior to commencement of the study.
Data collection procedure
The questionnaires were distributed by the researcher to the
respondents at the beginning of each day and night shift and they
completed the questionnaire while on duty. The participants’ completed
questionnaires were placed in a sealed box, and collected at a pre-
arranged time and date from the unit manager. The data collection
process continued for a week, which enabled the professional nurses
on all shifts to be included in the study.
Statistica version 11 (StatSoft, USA) was used to analyse the data.
Descriptive statistical analyses by means of frequency distributions were
used to analyse the demographic data. A χ2 analysis, with significance set
at 0.05, was used to analyse the individual and organisational barriers.
Only statistically significant results are reported on.
Demographic data of respondents
The respondents were mostly female (90%, n=63), between 40 and
49years of age (44%, n=31), with less than 10 years of work experience
in ICUs (54%, n=38) and permanently employed (83%, n=58). Only
33% of the participants held an additional qualification in intensive
care nursing with the South African Nursing Council (SANC). Table1
presents the demographic profile of the respondents.
Individual barriers to implementation of EBP
Several individual barriers to the implementation of EBP were iden-
tified and are discussed below:
• Degree of familiarity with EBP. Of the 70 respondents, only 54%
(n=38) could correctly define EBP. Only 18% (n=12) were familiar
with the concepts related to EBP, while 46% (n=32) incorrectly
defined and understood the concept. The findings indicated that
respondents younger than 40 years of age (66%, n=46) had a better
understanding of EBP compared with those older than 40 (34%,
n=24), but this was not statistically significant (χ2 8.36, df=3, p=0.04).
• Individual perceptions of EBP that underpin clinical decision-making.
The respondents had different perceptions about what should
underpin their clinical nursing decision-making and practices. None
of the respondents relied on robust evidence to guide their clinical
decision-making. Instead, the majority (84%, n=59) relied on what
was taught in their basic training, 44% (n=31) relied on traditional
practices, 43% (n=30) on intuition and 39% (n=27) stated that their
nursing practices were based on what was taught in the unit.
• Frequency of accessing information required for the use of
implementation of EBP. The majority (89%, n=62) of the respondents
accessed evidence occasionally (once or twice a year), while 11%
(n=8) indicated that they accessed information on a weekly basis.
• Frequency of accessing best-practice guidelines in the ICU. Of the
70respondents, 50% (n=35) indicated that they accessed best-
practice guidelines on an occasional basis, 14% (n=10) consulted
guidelines at least weekly, 21% (n=14) accessed guidelines 1 to 3
times per month, 11% (n=8) did so 1 to 3 times a year and 4% (n=3)
never accessed any best-practice guidelines.
• Information sources of evidence. On questioning the respondents on
how they would access information and/or evidence, 43% (n=30)
indicated that they would consult their peers, 35% (n=25) stated that
they would do an unstructured internet search, 11% (n=8) would
use textbooks and 11% (n=8) would consult peer-reviewed journals.
• Other sources of evidence. Of the 70 respondents, 43% (n=30) use the
latest available evidence to inform their practices in the ICU, 39% (n=27)
rely on what they have been taught in the unit, 17% (n=12) ask their
peers and 1% (n=1) rely on ritualistic practices. Two questions were
posed to assess which sources of evidence were consulted in caring for
critically ill patients; 50% indicated that they would refer to information
taught in the ICU to assist them in weaning a patient from a mechanical
Table 1. Demographic profile of respondents (N=70)
Var i a b le n (%)
Female 63 (90)
Male 7 (10)
<25 2 (3)
25 - 29 9 (13)
30 - 39 18 (26)
40 - 49 31 (44)
>50 10 (14)
Time working in ICU (years)
<1 5 (7)
1 - 4 23 (33)
5 - 9 10 (14)
10 - 14 16 (23)
>15 16 (23)
Position held in ICU
Permanently employed nurses 58 (83)
Agency appointed nurses 12 (17)
Professional nurse with an additional
qualification with SANC
Yes 23 (33)
No 47 (67)
52 SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2
52 SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2
ventilator, and 56% of the respondents would refer novice nurses in their
units to the latest best-practice guideline when sourcing information
on the prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia.
• Inability to synthesise the amount of literature available. Many
respondents (60%, n=42) stated that the amount of information
related to intensive care was too overwhelming to comprehend
and synthesise, which might hamper the implementation of EBP.
Furthermore, 43% (n=30) agreed that they have difficulty in critical
appraisal of journal articles or guidelines.
• Resistance of nurses to change from traditional and ritualistic practices
to EBP. The majority of respondents (59%, n=41) showed resistance to
change from traditional practice to EBP, while 41% (n=29) indicated
that they are not resistant to change.
Organisational barriers to the implementation
The organisational barriers to implementation of EBP were lack of
organisational support, organisational change and operations.
• Organisational barriers related to support (Table 2). Seven items were
included in this section. Two-thirds of the respondents (66%, n=46)
agreed or strongly agreed that nurse managers would support the
implementation of EBP, while 27% (n=19) disagreed or strongly
disagreed, and 7% (n=5) were neutral. Some respondents (43%, n=30)
agreed or strongly agreed that they would have the support of other
nursing colleagues to implement EBP, while 38% (n=27) disagreed
or strongly disagreed and 19% (n=13) were neutral. Physicians
were perceived to be the least supportive of the implementation
of EBP, as was evident by the fact that 36% (n=25) of respondents
agreed or strongly agreed with that statement. A total of 60% of
respondents indicated that nurses are open and receptive to the use
of available best-practice guidelines, while 57% indicated that their
organisation would be able to support the implementation of best-
practice guidelines in the ICU. It was noted that 39% (n=28) of the
respondents indicated that the institutional management would be
open and willing to participate in evidence uptake. However, the
majority of the respondents (91%) indicated that an EBP mentor or
champion is needed in the ICU to aid in the effective implementation
• Organisational barriers related to organisational change (Table3).
Five items were included in this section. The majority of the
respondents (58%, n=41) agreed that they lacked the authority to
change practice in order to facilitate the implementation of EBP.
Table 2. Descriptive statistics: Organisational barriers related to organisational support (N=70)
Statement Mean (SD)
Nurse managers are supportive of implementing
2.47 (1.16) 13 (19) 33 (47) 5 (7) 16 (23) 3 (4)
Nursing colleagues are supportive of
implementation of EBPs
2.91 (1.10) 6 (9) 24 (34) 13 (19) 24 (34) 3 (4)
Physicians are supportive of implementing EBPs 2.99 (1.11) 6 (9) 19 (27) 21 (30) 18 (26) 6 (9)
Nurses are open and receptive to the use of best-
2.54 (1.03) 8 (11) 34 (49) 12 (17) 14 (20) 2 (2)
The organisation would be able to support best-
practice guideline implementation
2.53 (0.86) 5 (7) 35 (50) 18 (26) 12 (17) 0 (0)
The institutional management is open and willing to
participate in evidence uptake
2.73 (0.92) 6 (9) 22 (31) 28 (40) 13 (19) 1 (1)
An EBP mentor or champion is needed for the
implementation of EBP
1.67 (0.72) 31 (44) 33 (47) 4 (6) 2 (3) 0 (0)
SD = standard deviation.
Table 3. Descriptive statistics: Organisational barriers related to organisational change (N=70)
Statement Mean (SD)
I lack the authority in the critical care unit to change
practice to support EBPs
2.60 (1.29) 16 (23) 24 (34) 7 (10) 18 (26) 5 (7)
There is insufficient time to implement changes in
2.71 (1.32) 15 (21) 22 (31) 7 (10) 20 (29) 6 (9)
The severity of the critically ill patient influences the
implementation of EBPs
2.77 (1.19) 10 (14) 24 (34) 13 (19) 18 (26) 5 (7)
I do not feel confident about changing practice based
on research findings or evidence
3.21 (1.18) 4 (6) 21 (30) 10 (14) 26 (37) 9 (13)
There are insufficient resources to change practice to
support implementation of EBPs
3.23 (1.23) 7 (10) 14 (20) 16 (23) 22 (31) 11 (16)
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Approximately half of the respondents (52%, n=37) indicated that
they had insufficient time to implement the change that is required for
EBP, w hile 48 (n=34) indicated that the illness severity of the critically
ill patient hindered the implementation of EBP. Furthermore, 36%
(n=25) agreed that they lacked confidence to change practice in
support of EBP, 50% (n=35) disagreed or strongly disagreed and 14%
(n=10) were neutral. Lastly, 30% (n=21) of respondents indicated
that a lack of resources was a barrier to the implementation of EBP.
• Organisational barriers related to operations. Six items were included
in this section. Seventy-three percent (n=51) of respondents
indicated that the lack of available research reports was a barrier
to EBP implementation, while 66% (n=46) agreed that the lack of
adequate access to computers was also a barrier. Furthermore, 44%
of the respondents indicated that they have difficulty in reading and
understanding research reports, and 25% (n=18) of the respondents
agreed that implications of research findings for clinical practice
are unclear. Other barriers that were identified by the respondents
were insufficient time to implement EBP (61%, n=43), as well as an
increased workload in the ICU (56%, n=39).
These findings highlight the fact that individual barriers might
hamper the implementation of EBP in ICUs. Nearly half of the
respondents showed a lack of familiarity or knowledge of EBP. Lack of
knowledge of EBP among SA healthcare professionals has previously
been found to be a barrier to EBP implementation. However, this
is not only an SA problem as it appears that, globally, knowledge
of EBP by nurses varies and in many cases is lacking.[7,16] In this
study it was found that nurses younger than 40 years of age had a
better understanding of EBP, thus implying that they might be more
open to the implementation of EBP. This might be due to the fact
that the younger generation are more technologically inclined, thus
enhancing searching strategies, or that they are more exposed to the
incorporation of EBP in their curricula and teaching programmes.
Relationships between the other demographic variables and EBP were
not statistically significant and were not reported. The findings of
the study confirm the report by Dalheim et al., who found that
younger nurses tend to use EBP more than older nurses, with the
latter tending to use self-experience.
Concerning individual barriers, all the respondents based their
clinical decision-making primarily on traditional, ritualistic practices,
on what they were taught in their basic training programme, on what
was taught in the unit and on their personal intuition. A US study
found that nurses in a hospital setting followed traditional practices,
which were in opposition to the best evidence available. Clinical
decisions that are not based on evidence could be detrimental to the
care of the critically ill patient. Gerrish and Cooke found that the
highest-ranked sources were tradition or ritual, intuition, information
obtained from peers or colleagues and information from policy/
procedure manuals. It can be deduced that nurses in an SA context
have similar tendencies in not relying on evidence to guide their
Additional individual barriers cited were related to the frequency of
accessing information and evidence, as well as the sources of retrieving
such information; these were shown to be challenging to the respondents.
They felt that the information found was overwhelming and difficult to
synthesise, which suggests an inability to critically appraise, validate and
comprehend the information in order to make a clinical decision. In a
study by Baird and Miller it was found that nurses accessed evidence
from research and nursing journals the least. Nurses find it a major
challenge to keep updated with the literature, as there are approximately
1000 EBP publications annually, including ICU literature.[12,20,21]
The last finding related to individual barriers was the resistance of
practitioners to change from traditional practices to implementing EBP.
Barker mentioned that most people are resistant to change because
they are trapped in their ‘comfort zones’. Williams et al. stated that
often there is an organisational culture that is resistant to change and to
EBP implementation. Hence, there is a need to foster an EBP culture to
ensure EBP implementation.
The findings also highlighted that organisational barriers could
hinder the implementation of EBP in ICUs. In this study, physicians
were ranked as being the least supportive of EBP implementation in
the ICU, while nurse managers were the most supportive. Just over
a quarter felt that nursing colleagues would be supportive of EBP
implementation. In a UK study nurses ranked nursing colleagues as
the most supportive regarding EBP, followed by nurse managers and
then physicians. However, it is encouraging to note that nursing
managers are regarded as the most supportive in this study, which is
an essential factor to consider when the implementation of EBP in a
private ICU is planned; this was not the case in an American study.
On the other hand, the perceived lack of physician support might be
detrimental to EBP implementation as physicians are one of the main
stakeholders in the care of critically ill patients in private ICUs. The
perceived lack of support from other non-nursing staff/management
was also a major barrier to EBP implementation.
Another organisational barrier to EBP implementation identified
was the lack of authority to change practice. This lack of authority
was identified in a review as being one of the top five barriers to
the implementation of EBP. A lack of authority (13.2%) was the
greatest barrier to the implementation of EBP. In a study by Brown
et al., lack of nurses’ autonomy to change practice required for EBP
implementation was among the top two organisational barriers.
The respondents reported a number of perceived barriers that were
linked to organisational operations, including a lack of time, increased
workload, a lack of readily available research reports, and a lack of
access to computers. They reported that they had insufficient time to
implement EBP. Lack of time has been reported elsewhere as one of the
top ten barriers to EBP implementation.[13,26,27] Lack of time is regarded
as a hindrance to the implementation of EBP. Healthcare institutions
tend to have a culture of ‘busyness’ which is valued and rewarded and
which does not encourage nurses to spend time sitting and reading, but
instead rewards those who visibly engage in duties with their patients.
Lack of time is also linked to increased workload.
Similar to these results, Williams et al. found high workload to
be a major barrier to the implementation of EBP, primarily because it
undermines the amount of time available for nurses to read EBP-related
research. An integrative literature review by Solomons and Spross
also found that workload affected EBP implementation, with 11 studies
reporting that time was a major barrier.
The lack of availability of research reports was indicated as another
barrier to EBP implementation. Lack of internet access at work was
listed by a number of studies as being important organisational barriers
to EBP implementation.[7,19]
The study was conducted in one private ICU in the Eastern Cape,
thus limiting the generalisability of findings. However, the findings
were similar to international studies cited. The questionnaire was
54 SAJCC November 2016, Vol. 32, No. 2
self-reported and did not capture the actual practices related to EBP
Professional nurses in a private ICU in the Nelson Mandela Bay
municipality identified individual and organisational barriers to the
implementation of EBP. The study findings showed that nurses younger
than 40 years are more familiar with the concepts of EBP. It is recommended
that the reasons for this phenomenon be investigated in future research.
In the ICU, the support of physicians for the implementation of EBP
should be encouraged. In order to promote healthcare delivery and quality
of patient care, nurse managers and other stakeholders in healthcare
institutions should be aware of these individual and organisational barriers
that might hamper the implementation of EBP.
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