Dissemination of Clinical Practice Guidelines: A Content Analysis of Patient Versions

Med Decis Making. 2016 Aug;36(6):692-702. doi: 10.1177/0272989X16644427. Epub 2016 Apr 18.


Background: Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) are typically written for health care professionals but are meant to assist patients with health care decisions. A number of guideline producers have started to develop patient versions of CPGs to reach this audience.

Objective: To describe the content and purpose of patient versions of CPGs and compare with patient and public views of CPGs.

Design: A descriptive qualitative study with a directed content analysis of a sample of patient versions of CPGs published and freely available in English from 2012 to 2014.

Results: We included 34 patient versions of CPGs from 17 guideline producers. Over half of the patient versions were in dedicated patient sections of national/professional agency websites. There was essentially no information about how to manage care in the health care system. The most common purpose was to equip people with information about disease, tests or treatments, and recommendations, but few provided quantitative data about benefits and harms of treatments. Information about beliefs, values and preferences, accessibility, costs, or feasibility of the interventions was rarely addressed. Few provided personal stories or scenarios to personalize the information. Three versions described the strength of the recommendation or the level of evidence.

Limitations: Our search for key institutions that produce patient versions of guidelines was comprehensive, but we only included English and freely available versions. Future work will include other languages.

Conclusions: This review describes the current landscape of patient versions of CPGs and suggests that these versions may not address the needs of their targeted audience. Research is needed about how to personalize information, provide information about factors contributing to the recommendations, and provide access.

Keywords: clinical practice guidelines; patient decision making; qualitative methods; risk communication; risk perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Information Services*
  • Patients*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Qualitative Research