Purpose: Consensus group methods, such as the Delphi method and nominal group technique (NGT), are used to synthesize expert opinions when evidence is lacking. Despite their extensive use, these methods are inconsistently applied. Their use in medical education research has not been well studied. The authors set out to describe the use of consensus methods in medical education research and to assess the reporting quality of these methods and results.
Method: Using scoping review methods, the authors searched the Medline, Embase, PsycInfo, PubMed, Scopus, and ERIC databases for 2009-2016. Full-text articles that focused on medical education and the keywords Delphi, RAND, NGT, or other consensus group methods were included. A standardized extraction form was used to collect article demographic data and features reflecting methodological rigor.
Results: Of the articles reviewed, 257 met the inclusion criteria. The Modified Delphi (105/257; 40.8%), Delphi (91/257; 35.4%), and NGT (23/257; 8.9%) methods were most often used. The most common study purpose was curriculum development or reform (68/257; 26.5%), assessment tool development (55/257; 21.4%), and defining competencies (43/257; 16.7%). The reporting quality varied, with 70.0% (180/257) of articles reporting a literature review, 27.2% (70/257) reporting what background information was provided to participants, 66.1% (170/257) describing the number of participants, 40.1% (103/257) reporting if private decisions were collected, 37.7% (97/257) reporting if formal feedback of group ratings was shared, and 43.2% (111/257) defining consensus a priori.
Conclusions: Consensus methods are poorly standardized and inconsistently used in medical education research. Improved criteria for reporting are needed.