Background and context: A large number of practice guidelines are being produced by numerous organizations. Health-care professionals need to critically evaluate these practice guidelines to understand whether they are well constructed and representative of the preponderance of evidence. The guideline development process should be precise and rigorous to ensure that the results are reproducible and not vague.
Purpose: To evaluate the quality of the second edition of the practice guidelines published by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM Guidelines).
Study design/setting: Four appraisers used the AGREE (Appraisal of Guidelines Research and Evaluation) guideline evaluation instrument to evaluate the ACOEM Guidelines.
Methods: The Guidelines were evaluated with the AGREE guideline evaluation instrument. The AGREE instrument has been widely adopted around the world, and the authors recommended that it be adopted as the standard of guideline construction process evaluation in the United States. The instrument standardizes the quantitative assessment of quality for a guideline's development process across six domains that include: scope and purpose, stakeholder involvement, rigor of development, clarity and presentation, application, and editorial independence. Scores from four assessors were collected and interpreted. Additionally, each evaluator selected one of four global assessment choices: "strongly recommended for use in practice," "recommended for use with some modification or proviso," "not recommended as suitable for use in practice," or "unsure".
Results: The ACOEM Guidelines scored highest in the dimensions that evaluated reporting of the guideline's scope and purpose (79.63) as well as clarity and presentation (86.81). The guideline scored much lower in the remaining areas that included stakeholder involvement (46.06), rigor of development (26.59), application (31.48), and editorial independence (19.17). The global assessment was unanimous with all four evaluators assessing the guideline as recommend with proviso.
Conclusions: Many of the Guidelines recommendations were consistent with current literature and guidelines; however, the AGREE assessment instrument evaluates the guideline development process and not the content. All the evaluators thought the content of the guidelines was substantially better than the documentation of the guideline construction process. The ACOEM Guidelines appear to have content consistent with their stated objectives, but the reporting of the guidelines construction process, particularly the rigor of recommendation development, is flawed, and the recommendations may not be valid owing to possible evidence selection deficiencies. The reader should consider these flaws and limitations when using the guideline. The reader should consider utilizing guidelines of higher quality when possible. Future guidelines should incorporate better reporting and give closer attention to guideline construction.