History of Health Evidence™

Maureen Dobbins, Director Health Evidence™

The story of how Health Evidence™ came to be begins many years ago when I started my career as a public health nurse at the City of Hamilton Public Health Department. In those early days, I often found myself questioning my practice and wondered what research evidence supported what I was doing as a public health nurse. Having taken courses focused on critical appraisal of research and research methods during my undergraduate degree in the School of Nursing at McMaster University, it was inevitable that I would question my practice in this way.

I was blessed with working at a health department that had a comprehensive library service, and as public health professionals we were encouraged to access these library services to address practice-based questions. So, with the best of intentions, I set out to find answers to my questions.

I recall calling the librarian and asking her to search for studies evaluating a particular intervention I was implementing. A few weeks later, a very large envelope arrived on my desk; full of articles related to my question. I recall being very excited about the opportunity to read research studies and report back to my team what I found.

However, the day the package arrived was already fully booked with home visits, meetings, charting; my front line daily responsibilities. So, the envelope was placed in my inbox, with the expectation that in the coming days I would work my way through reading each article. My excitement about being able to delve into the research slowly eroded as the realities of front line daily practice meant I did not have the time during my regular working day to read these articles.

Several months later I found that envelope buried beneath many other pieces of paper, with only one or two papers read. However, seeing this envelope again motivated me to 'just get to it' and read the papers. So, I took them home, thinking I would find the time at night and on weekends to read them. However, several months later, these papers were still unread.

Years later, I realize this early experience as a public health nurse significantly impacted my career path. The creation of Health Evidence™ is an attempt to ensure, at a minimum, that public health professionals can quickly and easily access research evidence on the effectiveness of public health interventions. While I was extremely fortunate to have a librarian who conducted literature searches and retrieved relevant papers for me, many public health professionals were not so fortunate. Still today, many public health professionals across Canada experience significant barriers in identifying and accessing relevant evidence on the effectiveness of public health interventions.

However, accessing evidence is only part of the issue. An equally important barrier to evidence-informed public health practice is interpreting and applying evidence to local practice. This implies having time to review research, interpret findings, and determine if and how it is relevant to the local setting and situation. Health Evidence™, therefore, in addition to facilitating access to synthesized evidence on the effectiveness of public health practice, also summarizes this evidence into short evidence summaries that identify implications for public health policy and practice.

Finally, my interaction over the years with public health professionals across Canada illustrates that all public health professionals are committed to providing the best public health services possible. However, even when the will to deliver effective practice is high, there are many challenges to achieving this end. As such, Health Evidence™ works closely with public health professionals and health departments in Canada, one on one, to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, culture, and infrastructure to practice in an evidence-informed manner.

Since launching Health Evidence™ in 2005, we have sought feedback regularly from public health professionals at all decision making levels in all provinces and territories in Canada. We have listened carefully to your feedback and have sought to integrate your suggestions within the new Health Evidence™ site. We have strived to ensure that Health Evidence™ delivers high quality, needed products to the public health community in Canada and I look forward to hearing your feedback in the coming months.

On behalf of the staff at Health Evidence™ we wish you all the best in your efforts to achieve evidence informed public health in Canada.

Maureen Dobbins