Importance: Despite increasing concerns regarding the cost of health care, the consideration of costs in the development of clinical guidance documents by physician specialty societies has received little analysis.
Objective: To evaluate the approach to consideration of cost in publicly available clinical guidance documents and methodological statements produced between 2008 and 2012 by the 30 largest US physician specialty societies.
Design: Qualitative document review.
Main outcomes and measures: Whether costs are considered in clinical guidance development, mechanism of cost consideration, and the way that cost issues were used in support of specific clinical practice recommendations.
Results: Methodological statements for clinical guidance documents indicated that 17 of 30 physician societies (57%) explicitly integrated costs, 4 (13%) implicitly considered costs, 3 (10%) intentionally excluded costs, and 6 (20%) made no mention. Of the 17 societies that explicitly integrated costs, 9 (53%) consistently used a formal system in which the strength of recommendation was influenced in part by costs, whereas 8 (47%) were inconsistent in their approach or failed to mention the exact mechanism for considering costs. Among the 138 specific recommendations in these guidance documents that included cost as part of the rationale, the most common form of recommendation (50 [36%]) encouraged the use of a specific medical service because of equal effectiveness and lower cost.
Conclusions and relevance: Slightly more than half of the largest US physician societies explicitly consider costs in developing their clinical guidance documents; among these, approximately half use an explicit mechanism for integrating costs into the strength of recommendations. Many societies remain vague in their approach. Physician specialty societies should demonstrate greater transparency and rigor in their approach to cost consideration in documents meant to influence care decisions.