Background: Professional societies, like many other organizations around the world, have recognized the need to use rigorous processes to ensure that health care recommendations are informed by the best available research evidence. Different clinical practice guidelines addressing the management of the same disease may vary widely in the evidence used and the format of the recommendations, with the result that not all are appropriate for all audiences. This is the first of a series of 14 articles that clinicians, methodologists, and researchers from around the world prepared to advise those developing guidelines in respiratory and other diseases about the potential impact of identifying the target audiences for their clinical practice guidelines.
Methods: In this review we address the following questions. (1) Which audiences are interested in a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) guideline? (2) How many audiences can be addressed in a single COPD guideline? (3) What is the purpose of the guidelines? (4) Who should be included on the guideline panel? We collected information by searching PubMed and reviewing information from groups that are currently making and using respiratory disease guidelines, as well as from workshop discussions. Our conclusions are based on available evidence, consideration of what guideline developers are doing, and the opinions of those who attended the workshop.
Results and conclusions: Clinicians desire COPD and other guidelines that are concise, use evidence from practices similar to theirs, and whose authors have expertise in providing care in similar settings and with similar patients. In the case of COPD, barriers to generalists' use of guidelines include lack of awareness of the guidelines, failure to embrace the diagnostic methods as capable of providing definitive confirmation of COPD, and, most importantly, failure of previous guidelines to address the treatment of COPD in the context of the broad range of multiple morbidities that affect most people with COPD. COPD specialists may require guidelines with more details regarding complex COPD management. The purpose of the guidelines may determine the appropriate audience. Guidelines developed to improve care by enhancing education may have a very different audience than guidelines designed to improve care by limiting the scope of practice, punishing noncompliance, or saving money. The purpose will drive dissemination and implementation strategies, but should not influence the methods used to develop a guideline. Clinicians desire guidelines, but data suggest that the current development systems, content, format, and dissemination strategies may need to be altered to fit these audiences. After the purpose and audience are determined, the guideline committee must decide how to fairly address these audiences, which will usually require seeking their input.