Objectives: To identify major differences and similarities in the development of clinical guidelines in different European countries.
Methods: A collaboration of researchers is funded by the European Commission to compare the approaches to guideline development in collaborators' countries. The program encompasses a series of tasks, the first being to identify and document current guideline procedures in the collaborating countries. A survey gathered information on guideline production, dissemination, and implementation in the 10 European countries involved in the project consortium: Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain (both the Basque Country and Catalonia), and Switzerland.
Results: Seven countries have a national policy on guideline production, dissemination, and implementation, and three countries are discussing their policies. A majority of guidelines are currently produced at the national level in six of the countries and at the regional or local level in the other four. Central or national funding supports guideline production in six countries. Additional sources of funding include medical societies, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance companies. Several of the countries have published or are preparing evaluations of their dissemination strategies.
Conclusions: The survey highlighted wide variation in the methods and policies of guideline development in Europe. The Appraisal of Guidelines, Research, and Evaluation in Europe (AGREE) Collaboration research program will identify the characteristics of the "better" guideline programs and will provide the basis for more research-generated policy initiatives in the future, helping to ensure that guidelines play a major role in improving patient care in the millennium.