The objective of clinical prediction rules is to reduce the uncertainty inherent in medical practice by defining how to use clinical findings to make predictions. Clinical prediction rules are derived from systematic clinical observations. They can help physicians identify patients who require diagnostic tests, treatment, or hospitalization. Before adopting a prediction rule, clinicians must evaluate its applicability to their patients. We describe methodological standards that can be used to decide whether a prediction rule is suitable for adoption in a clinician's practice. We applied these standards to 33 reports of prediction rules; 42 per cent of the reports contained an adequate description of the prediction rules, the patients, and the clinical setting. The misclassification rate of the rule was measured in only 34 per cent of reports, and the effects of the rule on patient care were described in only 6 per cent of reports. If the objectives of clinical prediction rules are to be fully achieved, authors and readers need to pay close attention to basic principles of study design.