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Patients Can Be Confident They are Getting the Best Treatment When Research is Integrated with Clinical Practice

Shepherd Center incorporates research into the clinic everyday.

By Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D.
Director of Multiple Sclerosis Research, Shepherd Center

As patients – at Shepherd Center or elsewhere – we want to always be confident we are getting the “best” healthcare possible. This might mean receiving cutting-edge, up-to-the moment interventions or medications, or having access to exciting and promising technologies.

But how does the physician, nurse, therapist or other healthcare provider know what is the best, most advanced and up-to-date medical and rehabilitation care tailored to address our different conditions, needs and personal characteristics? 

Shepherd Center addresses this question by incorporating research into the clinic every day. “Evidence-based practice” isn’t just a buzz word, but is viewed as a professional responsibility to our patients and the rehabilitation field in general. 

Evidence-based practice refers to the “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current evidence in making decisions.” (Sackett 1996) To the patient, that means clinicians learn about and integrate research into their practice –that is, the treatment of their patients on a daily basis. Physicians, nurses, therapists and other providers combine the most current evidence with their clinical expertise and the patients’ goals to provide the highest state-of-the-art clinical care. 

The best evidence to integrate into the clinic is that which is clinically meaningful, and that has been conducted using rigorous methods. Knowing where and how to find the evidence is not always simple, and it can be time-consuming. Thus, it’s critical that providers have time to scour published research for relevant and well-done studies and to evaluate that evidence critically before using it in patient care. In addition, certain skills are necessary to carefully assess the methods used in a study and determine if the findings are valid and applicable to a given patient. 

Shepherd Center provides time for their clinicians to read relevant research. Journal clubs and open discussion are encouraged. Shepherd Center researchers also provide educational opportunities to clinicians to teach them how to find the most up-to-date and relevant evidence, and how to critically evaluate that evidence for application in the clinic. Training opportunities also afford interested clinicians the chance to participate in the design and implementation of research studies. Research and evidence are common threads throughout our continuum of care.  This support and these opportunities naturally seep into the clinic and facilitate evidence-based practice.

Integrating research into the clinical setting has cultivated a culture of inquiry at Shepherd Center. Patients can feel confident that their physician, nurse, therapist or other healthcare providers are regularly challenging themselves to be informed of evidence related to diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of their patients. Having access to and understanding the evidence will guide their choice of interventions so that, ultimately, each patient can be confident they are receiving the very best care preparing them for a return to a functional, productive and high quality of life.

To read more about Shepherd Center research, visit

DEBORAH BACKUS, PT, Ph.D., is director of multiple sclerosis research at Shepherd Center.  She has almost 30 years of experience as a rehabilitation clinician, educator and researcher.  Dr. Backus also serves as the director of the Jesse Crawford Mentoring Program, which functions to enhance the integration of evidence into practice across the continuum of care and for all programs at Shepherd Center.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.