Objectives: To examine whether existing clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) for cholesterol testing reflect research evidence and hence may control or reduce costs while maintaining or improving the quality of care.
Methods: A systematic search for published and unpublished cholesterol testing CPGs and independent critical appraisal of the CPGs by two researchers using a standard checklist.
Results: In four of the five CPGs analysed, the link between the research evidence and the recommendations was not maintained. The appraisal, local experience and the literature all suggest that panel composition is an important explanation, in that the greater the involvement of clinical experts in the development process of the CPGs, the less the recommendations reflected the research evidence. Even though their participation is important for CPG uptake, clinical expert panels appear to have difficulty limiting CPGs to research-based recommendations.
Conclusions: Existing cholesterol testing CPGs are unlikely to improve the quality of care while controlling or reducing costs. The problem lies not with guideline implementation but with the guidelines themselves. It is unclear how best to ensure that recommendations reflect research evidence but this is likely to require significant and progressive changes to the current guideline development process, including a redefinition of the clinical experts' role.