Background: Clinical guidelines are pervading all aspects of health care. Their potential benefits are vast--from decreasing unjustified variation in treatment, to improving outcomes for patient, to containing escalating costs. However, there is increasing concern that many of the guidelines produced may be of low quality and recommend ineffective treatment. A framework to appraise the methodologic quality of clinical guidelines, commissioned by the NHS in 1997, was developed and validated in the United Kingdom (UK) under the auspices of the National Research and Development Programme.
The independent appraisal service: This framework is now used to assess all national guidelines funded by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK as part of an independent appraisal service. The appraisal provides a basis for policymakers to decide which guidelines should be commended for use in the NHS. Each guideline is appraised by a minimum of six appraisers. Twenty-one guidelines had been appraised as of July 1999. The mean time for completion of the appraisals, from receipt of the guidelines to dispatch of the reports, was just over ten weeks. There has been a marked improvement in the quality of documentation for national guidelines--including the search strategy and synthesis of evidence--in the past three years, although some areas of development remain inadequately reported.
Policy implications: Ensuring that the clinical guidelines are sound before recommending their use is essential to policymakers responsible for guideline programs, and a formal appraisal should be an integral part of those programs.