First published 12/2012
Last reviewed 9/2014
Compared to clinical medicine, public health focuses on populations rather than individuals, and on programs and policies rather than clinical care. The definition of evidence-based public health reflects this difference in focus.
Evidence-based Medicine: What it is and What it isn't
Sackett, D., Rosenberg, W., Gray, J.A., Haynes, R., & Richardson, W.; BMJ 1996; 312:71-72.
Evidence-based Public Health
Brownson, R., Baker, E., Leet, T., & Gillespie, K.; International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 2003, 15 (5): 443-444
Evidence-based Practices and Promising Practices
One obstacle to understanding evidence-based public health practice is the lack of consistent terminology from one source to another. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Community Guide to Preventive Services uses systematic reviews to assess the strength of evidence for intervention effectiveness. Interventions in the guide that are “recommended” have been determined by public health experts to have both strong and sufficient evidence.
Other clearinghouses may use less stringent standards for labeling interventions as “evidence-based”. Promising practices can be defined with even less precision. Examples of definitions of evidence-based and promising practices include:
Using Different Forms of Evidence to Inform Decisions
Rural practitioners can use different forms of evidence to help them make decisions about:
Table 4-1 shows available evidence types classified by levels of strength. It distinguishes between evidence-based strategies and effective strategies. It also includes fairly new and untested strategies, but can clarify which ones have a record of effectiveness.
Table 4-1. Criteria Used to Classify Levels of Evidence
Published in systematic reviews, syntheses, or meta-analyses whose authors have conducted a structured review of published high-quality, peer-reviewed studies and evaluation reports. Evidence-based strategies produce significant, positive health or behavioral outcomes and/or intermediate policy, environmental, or economic impacts.
Published in high-quality, peer-reviewed studies and evaluation reports. Effective strategies produce significant positive health or behavioral outcomes, and policy, environment, or economic impacts.
Based on evidence from published or unpublished evaluation studies or exploratory evaluations. Promising strategies show meaningful, plausible positive health or behavioral outcomes, and policy, environment, or economic impacts.
Include newly implemented innovations that may be in the process of being tested by researchers.
Accelerating Evidence Reviews and Broadening Evidence Standards to Identify Effective, Promising, and Emerging Policy and Environmental Strategies for Prevention of Childhood Obesity
Brennan, L., Castro, S., Brownson, R.D., Claus, J., & Orleans, T.; Annual Rev. Public Health. 32: 199-223; Jan. 3, 2011
It has been noted that evidence is in the eye of the beholder. While policymakers may look for information about costs and benefits concerning evidence, a practitioner working in a community-based organization might find anecdotes more useful. Figure 4-1 shows how different forms of evidence fall along a spectrum from objective to subjective.
Evidence-based Public Health: A Fundamental Concept for Public Health Practice
Brownson, R.C., Fielding, J.F., & Maylahn, C.M.; Annual Rev. Public Health 2009. 30:175-201