Background: Despite the growing availability of clinical practice guidelines since the early 1990's, little is known about how guideline development and dissemination may have changed over time in Canada. This study compares Canadian guideline development, dissemination, and evaluation in two six year periods from 1994-1999 and 2000-2005.
Methods: Survey of guideline developers who submitted their clinical practice guidelines to the Canadian Medical Association Infobase (a Canadian guideline repository) between 1994 and 2005. Survey items included information about the developers, aspects of guideline development, and dissemination and evaluation activities.
Results: Surveys were sent to the developers of 2341 guidelines in the CMA Infobase over the 12 year period, 1664 surveys were returned (response rate 71%). Of these, 730 unique guidelines were released from 1994-1999, and 630 were released from 2000-2005. Compared to the earlier period, more recent guidelines were being produced in English only. There has been little change in the type of organizations developing guidelines with most developed by provincial and national organizations. In the recent period, developers were more likely to report using computerized search strategies (94% versus 88%), publishing the search strategy (42% versus 34%), reaching consensus using open discussion (95% versus 78%), and evaluating effectiveness of the dissemination strategies (12% versus 6%) and the impact of the CPGs on health outcomes (24% versus 5%). Recent guidelines were less likely to be based on literature reviews (94% versus 99.6%) and were disseminated using fewer strategies (mean 4.78 versus 4.12).
Conclusion: Given that guideline development processes have improved in some areas over the past 12 years yet not in others, ongoing monitoring of guideline quality is required. Guidelines produced more recently in Canada are less likely to be based on a review of the evidence and only about half discuss levels of evidence underlying recommendations. Guideline dissemination and implementation activities have actually decreased. Unfortunately, the potential positive impact on patient health outcomes will not be realized until the recommendations are adopted and acted upon.