Background: Clinical guidelines have been the subject of much criticism in primary care literature partly due to potential conflicts in their implementation among patients with multiple chronic conditions. We assessed the relevance of selected Canadian clinical guidelines on chronic diseases for patients with comorbidity and examined their quality.
Methods: We selected 16 chronic medical conditions according to their frequency of occurrence, complexity of treatment, and pertinence to primary care. Recent Canadian clinical guidelines (2004 - 2009) on these conditions, published in English or French, were retrieved. We assessed guideline relevance to the care of patients with comorbidity with a tool developed by Boyd and colleagues. Quality was assessed using the Appraisal of Guidelines Research and Evaluation (AGREE) instrument.
Results: Regarding relevance, 56.2% of guidelines addressed treatment for patients with multiple chronic conditions and 18.8% addressed the issue for older patients. Fifteen guidelines (93.8%) included specific recommendations for patients with one concurrent condition; only three guidelines (18.8%) addressed specific recommendations for patients with two comorbid conditions and one for more than two concurrent comorbid conditions. Quality of the evaluated guidelines was good to very good in four out of the six domains measured using the AGREE instrument. The domains with lower mean scores were Stakeholder Involvement and Applicability.
Conclusions: The quality of the Canadian guidelines examined is generally good, yet their relevance for patients with two or more chronic conditions is very limited and there is room for improvement in this respect.