Introduction: The use of evidence-based clinical guidelines is an essential component of chronic disease management. However, there is well-documented concern about variability in the quality of clinical guidelines, with evidence of persisting methodological shortcomings. The most widely accepted approach to assessing the quality of guidelines is the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation (AGREE) instrument. We have conducted a systematic review of the methodological quality (as assessed by AGREE) of clinical guidelines developed in Europe for the management of chronic diseases published since 2000.
Methods: The systematic review was undertaken in accordance with the Cochrane methodology. The inclusion criteria were that studies should have appraised European clinical guidelines for certain selected chronic disorders using the AGREE instrument. We searched five databases (Cab Abstracts, EMBASE, MEDLINE, Trip and EPPI).
Results: Nine studies reported in 10 papers, analysing a total of 28 European guidelines from eight countries as well as pan-European, were included. There was considerable variation in the quality of clinical guidelines across the AGREE domains. The least well addressed domains were 'editorial independence' (with a mean domain score of 41%), 'applicability' (44%), 'stakeholder involvement' (55%), and 'rigour of development' (64%), while 'clarity of presentation' (80%) and 'scope and purpose' (84%) were less problematic.
Conclusion: This review indicates that there is considerable scope for improvement in the methods used to develop clinical guidelines for the prevention, management and treatment of chronic diseases in Europe. Given the importance of decision support strategies such as clinical guidelines in chronic disease management, improvement measures should include the explicit and transparent involvement of key stakeholders (especially scientific experts, guideline users and methodological specialists) and consideration of the implications for guideline implementation and applicability early on in the process.
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