Role of patient preferences in clinical practice guidelines: a multiple methods study using guidelines from oncology as a case

BMJ Open. 2019 Dec 5;9(12):e032483. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-032483.


Objective: Many treatment decisions are preference-sensitive and call for shared decision-making, notably when benefits are limited or uncertain, and harms impact quality of life. We explored if clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) acknowledge preference-sensitive decisions in how they motivate and phrase their recommendations.

Design: We performed a qualitative analysis of the content of CPGs and verified the results in semistructured interviews with CPG panel members.

Setting: Dutch oncology CPGs issued in 2010 or later, concerning primary treatment with curative intent.

Participants: 14 CPG panel members.

Main outcomes: For treatment recommendations from six CPG modules, two researchers extracted the following: strength of recommendation in terms of the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation and its consistency with the CPG text; completeness of presentation of benefits and harms; incorporation of patient preferences; statements on the panel's benefits-harm trade-off underlying recommendation; and advice on patient involvement in decision-making.

Results: We identified 32 recommendations, 18 were acknowledged preference-sensitive decisions. Three of 14 strong recommendations should have been weak based on the module text. The reporting of benefits and harms, and their probabilities, was sufficiently complete and clear to inform the strength of the recommendation in one of the six modules only. Numerical probabilities were seldom presented. None of the modules presented information on patient preferences. CPG panel's preferences were not made explicit, but appeared to have impacted 15 of 32 recommendations. Advice to involve patients and their preferences in decision-making was given for 20 recommendations (14 weak). Interviewees confirmed these findings. Explanations for lack of information were, for example, that clinicians know the information and that CPGs must be short. Explanations for trade-offs made were cultural-historical preferences, compliance with daily care, presumed role of CPGs and lack of time.

Conclusions: The motivation and phrasing of CPG recommendations do not stimulate choice awareness and a neutral presentation of options, thus hindering shared decision-making.

Keywords: GRADE; choice awareness; evidence-based medicine; patient preferences; protocols & guidelines; shared decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Decision Making, Shared
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology* / methods
  • Medical Oncology* / standards
  • Motivation*
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Participation* / methods
  • Patient Participation* / psychology
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Assessment / methods