Objective: To identify the number of Australian clinical practice guidelines, and their key characteristics.
Design, setting and participants: Clinical practice guidelines that were produced or reviewed between 2003 and 2007 for use in Australia at a national or state level were identified by approaching health-related organisations and searching websites. Their characteristics were abstracted from the published guidelines and publicly accessible accompanying material.
Main outcome measures: Number of clinical practice guidelines, key health areas, documentation of evidence search and appraisal processes, numbers and types of guideline producers and funders, presence of competing interest statements.
Results: 313 clinical practice guidelines were identified, of which 91 (29%) were evidence-documented, either in the guideline itself or in an accessible accompanying document. Over 80 guideline producers were identified. Federal or state government agencies produced or contributed funding to 53% of the guidelines (167/313); 28% of the guidelines supported by government agencies (46/167) were categorised as evidence-documented. A review date was specified in 52% of evidence-documented guidelines (47/91), but a third of these had passed the review date at the time of our study and no updated guidelines were found. Areas with a large burden of disease did not necessarily receive government support for guideline development. Most guidelines (246/313; 79%) made no mention of possible competing interests of members of the guideline development group.
Conclusions: A more coordinated approach to identifying national priorities for developing and updating clinical practice guidelines may produce better returns on investment in Australian guidelines. In addition, more transparency in documenting the guideline development process, including details on competing interests, is needed.