Since 1980, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) have translated scientific evidence into clinical practice guidelines with recommendations to improve cardiovascular health. These guidelines, based on systematic methods to evaluate and classify evidence, provide a cornerstone of quality cardiovascular care.
In response to reports from the Institute of Medicine, and a mandate to evaluate new knowledge and maintain relevance at the point of care, the ACC/AHA Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines (Task Force) modified its methodology.– The relationships among guidelines, data standards, appropriate use criteria, and performance measures are addressed elsewhere.
Intended Use: Practice guidelines provide recommendations applicable to patients with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The focus is on medical practice in the United States, but guidelines developed in collaboration with other organizations may have a broader target. Although guidelines may be used to inform regulatory or payer decisions, the intent is to improve quality of care and align with patients' interests. Guidelines are intended to define practices meeting the needs of patients in most, but not all, circumstances, and should not replace clinical judgment. Guidelines are reviewed annually by the Task Force and are official policy of the ACC and AHA. Each guideline is considered current until it is updated, revised, or superseded by published addenda, statements of clarification, focused updates, or revised full-text guidelines. To ensure that guidelines remain current, new data are reviewed biannually to determine whether recommendations should be modified. In general, full revisions are posted in 5-year cycles.–
Modernization: Processes have evolved to support the evolution of guidelines as “living documents” that can be dynamically updated. This process delineates a recommendation to address a specific clinical question, followed by concise text (ideally <250 words) and hyperlinked to supportive evidence. This approach accommodates time constraints on busy clinicians and facilitates easier access to recommendations via electronic search engines and other evolving technology.
Evidence Review: Writing committee members review the literature; weigh the quality of evidence for or against particular tests, treatments, or procedures; and estimate expected health outcomes. In developing recommendations, the writing committee uses evidence-based methodologies that are based on all available data.– Literature searches focus on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) but also include registries, nonrandomized comparative and descriptive studies, case series, cohort studies, systematic reviews, and expert opinion. Only selected references are cited.
The Task Force recognizes the need for objective, independent Evidence Review Committees (ERCs) that include methodologists, epidemiologists, clinicians, and biostatisticians who systematically survey, abstract, and assess the evidence to address systematic review questions posed in the PICOTS format (P=population, I=intervention, C=comparator, O=outcome, T=timing, S=setting).,– Practical considerations, including time and resource constraints, limit the ERCs to evidence that is relevant to key clinical questions and lends itself to systematic review and analysis that could affect the strength of corresponding recommendations.
Guideline-Directed Management and Treatment: The term “guideline-directed management and therapy” (GDMT) refers to care defined mainly by ACC/AHA Class I recommendations. For these and all recommended drug treatment regimens, the reader should confirm dosage with product insert material and carefully evaluate for contraindications and interactions. Recommendations are limited to treatments, drugs, and devices approved for clinical use in the United States.
Class of Recommendation and Level of Evidence: The Class of Recommendation (COR; ie, the strength of the recommendation) encompasses the anticipated magnitude and certainty of benefit in proportion to risk. The Level of Evidence (LOE) rates evidence supporting the effect of the intervention on the basis of the type, quality, quantity, and consistency of data from clinical trials and other reports (Table 1).– Unless otherwise stated, recommendations are sequenced by COR and then by LOE. Where comparative data exist, preferred strategies take precedence. When >1 drug, strategy, or therapy exists within the same COR and LOE and no comparative data are available, options are listed alphabetically.
Relationships With Industry and Other Entities: The ACC and AHA sponsor the guidelines without commercial support, and members volunteer their time. The Task Force zealously avoids actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest that might arise through relationships with industry or other entities (RWI). All writing committee members and reviewers are required to disclose current industry relationships or personal interests, from 12 months before initiation of the writing effort. Management of RWI involves selecting a balanced writing committee and assuring that the chair and a majority of committee members have no relevant RWI (Appendix 1). Members are restricted with regard to writing or voting on sections to which their RWI apply. For transparency, members' comprehensive disclosure information is available online. Comprehensive disclosure information for the Task Force is also available online.
The Task Force strives to avoid bias by selecting experts from a broad array of backgrounds representing different geographic regions, sexes, ethnicities, intellectual perspectives/biases, and scopes of clinical practice, and by inviting organizations and professional societies with related interests and expertise to participate as partners or collaborators.
Individualizing Care in Patients With Associated Conditions and Comorbidities: Managing patients with multiple conditions can be complex, especially when recommendations applicable to coexisting illnesses are discordant or interacting. The guidelines are intended to define practices meeting the needs of patients in most, but not all, circumstances. The recommendations should not replace clinical judgment.
Clinical Implementation: Management in accordance with guideline recommendations is effective only when followed. Adherence to recommendations can be enhanced by shared decision making between clinicians and patients, with patient engagement in selecting interventions on the basis of individual values, preferences, and associated conditions and comorbidities. Consequently, circumstances may arise in which deviations from these guidelines are appropriate.
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