Background: Multiple clinical practice guidelines exist for breast and cervical cancer screening, and differ in aggressiveness with respect to the recommended frequency and target populations for screening.
Objectives: To determine (1) US primary care physicians' (PCPs) perceptions of the influence of different clinical practice guidelines; (2) the relationship between the number, aggressiveness, and agreement of influential guidelines and the aggressiveness of physicians' screening recommendations; and (3) factors associated with guideline perceptions.
Research design and methods: A nationally representative sample of 1212 PCPs was surveyed in 2006-2007. Cross-sectional analyses examined physicians' perceptions of the influence of different breast and cervical cancer screening guidelines, the relationship of guideline perceptions to screening recommendations in response to hypothetical vignettes, and the predictors of guideline perceptions.
Results: American Cancer Society and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines were perceived as more influential than other guidelines. Most physicians (62%) valued multiple guidelines, and conflicting and aggressive rather than conservative guideline combinations. The number, aggressiveness, and agreement of influential guidelines were associated with the aggressiveness of screening recommendations (P < 0.01)-which was highest for physicians valuing multiple-aggressive, lowest for physicians valuing multiple-conservative, and intermediate for physicians valuing multiple-conflicting, single, and no guidelines. Obstetrician/gynecologists specialty predicted valuation of aggressive guidelines (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: PCPs' perceptions of cancer screening guidelines vary, relate to screening recommendations in logically-consistent ways, and are predicted by specialty and other factors. The number, aggressiveness, and agreement of valued guidelines are associated with screening recommendations, suggesting that guideline multiplicity is an important problem in clinical decision-making.