By Pip Divall: Health Sector Rep, CILIP Information Literacy Group and Clinical Librarian Service Manager, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
NHS Health Education England (HEE) have recently released the first in a series of e-learning modules on critical appraisal on the E-learning for Healthcare website. A series of eight modules is planned, including an introduction, and topics covering all the main research methodologies in healthcare. Each takes around 30 minutes to complete.
Why is critical appraisal important? Being able to read and make sense of research is key in making decisions in evidence-based healthcare (EBHC), and it is built on having a foundation of knowledge, asking questions, retrieving knowledge and evidence, and having the understanding and ability to use and critique the available evidence. The issues to be thinking about while assessing evidence are “is this research true?” and “is this research clinically useful?”
Reading research papers critically is an essential component of practising EBHC, and often healthcare professionals feel that they lack confidence to do this competently.
As an experienced (but I always stress, not an expert!) trainer in critical appraisal, I was asked to peer review these modules prior to publication. This is some of the best e-learning that I’ve come across, with clear workable examples that run through the module and are relatable to any level of healthcare professional. In my own face-to-face teaching, I often don’t know what the clinical background of attendees will be, so I try to use examples that are just sensible enough for everyone to follow. We cover parachutes, food in hospital canteens and sometimes football hooliganism when I’m teaching, and I can tailor my examples to the clinical staff in the room. These modules aren’t quite as off the wall as my teaching can be and are definitely relatable for all healthcare staff.
My personal aim when teaching critical appraisal and research methodologies is to increase the confidence of attendees and give them the basic knowledge and tools to read and make sense of research papers in their own areas of specialty. Not all healthcare librarians themselves feel confident to offer this training. In the NHS with many other time pressures and small library teams or solo librarians, not all Knowledge and Library Services are able to offer scheduled training in critical appraisal.
The modules are also ideal as a refresher for those who have attended or completed critical appraisal training in the past and need a top up on their knowledge and skills. I know that I really struggled to grasp the concepts around appraising diagnostic papers and needed to go back over the material many times, so I expect the module from e-learning for healthcare to be really well used! It’s genuinely the best example I’ve seen used for the concept too.
These new modules are aimed at all NHS and social care staff and are freely available to all who wish to register to use the site. They are also accessible with an NHS OpenAthens account.
NHS Health Education England’s modules have been put together by experts in critical appraisal and I think they will go a long way to increase the confidence of healthcare and information professionals alike.