Systematic reviews of clinical practice guidelines: a methodological guide

J Clin Epidemiol. 2019 Apr:108:64-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2018.11.030. Epub 2018 Dec 5.


Objectives: Systematic reviews (SRs) of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) are unique knowledge syntheses that require tailored approaches to, and greater subjectivity in, design and execution compared with other SRs in clinical epidemiology. We provide review authors structured direction on how to design and conduct methodologically rigorous SRs of CPGs.

Study design and setting: A guidance paper outlining suggested methodology for conducting all stages of an SR of CPGs. We present concrete examples of approaches used by published reviews, including a case exemplar demonstrating how this methodology was applied to our own SR of CPGs.

Results: Review context and the unique characteristics of CPGs as research syntheses or clinical guidance statements must be considered in all aspects of review design and conduct. Researchers should develop a "PICAR" statement to help form and focus on the research question(s) and eligibility criteria, assess CPG quality using a validated appraisal tool, and extract, analyze, and summarize data in a way that is cogent and transparent.

Conclusion: SRs of CPGs can be used to systematically identify, assess, and summarize the current state of guidance on a clinical topic. These types of reviews often require methodological tailoring to ensure that their objectives and timelines are effectively and efficiently addressed; however, they should all meet the criteria for an SR, follow a rigorous methodological approach, and adhere to transparent reporting practices.

Keywords: Clinical practice guidelines; Evidence-based medicine; Research methodology; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Publications
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic*