Background: While the potential of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) to support implementation of evidence has been demonstrated, it is not currently being achieved. CPGs are both poorly developed and ineffectively implemented. To improve clinical practice and health outcomes, both well-developed CPGs and effective methods of CPG implementation are needed. We sought to establish whether there is agreement on the fundamental characteristics of an evidence-based CPG development process and to explore whether the level of guidance provided in CPG development handbooks is sufficient for people using these handbooks to be able to apply it.
Methods: CPG development handbooks were identified through a broad search of published and grey literature. Documents published in English produced by national or international organisations purporting to support development of evidence-based CPGs were included. A list of 14 key elements of a CPG development process was developed. Two authors read each handbook. For each handbook a judgement was made as to how it addressed each element; assigned as: 'mentioned and clear guidance provided', 'mentioned but limited practical detail provided ', or 'not mentioned'.
Results: Six CPG development handbooks were included. These were produced by the Council of Europe, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK, the New Zealand Guidelines Group, the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network, and the World Health Organization (WHO).There was strong concordance between the handbooks on the key elements of an evidence-based CPG development process. All six of the handbooks require and provide guidance on establishment of a multidisciplinary guideline development group, involvement of consumers, identification of clinical questions or problems, systematic searches for and appraisal of research evidence, a process for drafting recommendations, consultation with others beyond the guideline development group, and ongoing review and updating of the CPG.
Conclusion: The key elements of an evidence-based CPG development process are addressed with strong concordance by existing CPG development handbooks. Further research is required to determine why these key elements are often not addressed by CPG developers.