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OBJECTIVES: To determine the attitude of general practitioners towards evidence based medicine and their related educational needs. DESIGN: A questionnaire study of general practitioners. SETTING: General practice in the former Wessex region, England. SUBJECTS: Randomly selected sample of 25% of all general practitioners (452), of whom 302 replied. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Respondents' attitude towards evidence based medicine, ability to access and interpret evidence, perceived barriers to practising evidence based medicine, and best method of moving from opinion based to evidence based medicine. RESULTS: Respondents mainly welcomed evidence based medicine and agreed that its practice improves patient care. They had a low level of awareness of extracting journals, review publications, and databases (only 40% knew of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews), and, even if aware, many did not use them. In their surgeries 20% had access to bibliographic databases and 17% to the world wide web. Most had some understanding of the technical terms used. The major perceived barrier to practising evidence based medicine was lack of personal time. Respondents thought the most appropriate way to move towards evidence based general practice was by using evidence based guidelines or proposals developed by colleagues. CONCLUSION: Promoting and improving access to summaries of evidence, rather than teaching all general practitioners literature searching and critical appraisal, would be the more appropriate method of encouraging evidence based general practice. General practitioners who are skilled in accessing and interpreting evidence should be encouraged to develop local evidence based guidelines and advice.