A parallel guideline development and formalization strategy to improve the quality of clinical practice guidelines

Int J Med Inform. 2009 Aug;78(8):513-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.02.010. Epub 2009 Apr 17.


Purpose: Clinical practice guidelines often contain ambiguities, inconsistencies, and logical errors that hamper implementation of these guidelines in practice. As guideline formalization is useful to verify the logical structure, consistency, and completeness of guidelines, several authors have argued that the formalization of guidelines concurrent with their development may improve their quality. However, experiences with such a parallel guideline development and formalization approach have not yet been reported. The goal of this study was to develop such a strategy and evaluate its application in practice.

Methods: Existing methodologies for guideline development and guideline formalization were analyzed and used as a basis to develop a strategy in which guideline formalization is performed concurrently with guideline development. The developed strategy was applied in the development of a clinical practice guideline for cardiac rehabilitation.

Results: A parallel guideline development and formalization strategy was developed that intertwines the processes of guideline development and guideline formalization. Central assets are early involvement of guideline formalization specialists and formalization tools, cooperation between guideline authors and guideline formalization specialists in the development of clinical algorithms, access to domain knowledge when formalization identifies inconsistencies or omissions, and formal verification of the guideline model prior to guideline dissemination. This strategy was applied in the development of a guideline for cardiac rehabilitation and helped to identify several vague and inconsistent recommendations and impracticabilities in the narrative guidelines that could be resolved before publication. In addition, the strategy ensured consistency between the narrative and formalized guideline.

Conclusions: Based on our experience, formalizing a guideline concurrent with its development is feasible in practice and we recommend applying such a strategy as it can be beneficial to the quality of and consistency between the guideline's narrative and formalized version.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Rehabilitation
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Quality of Health Care*