Background: The use of clinical guidelines is one strategy intended to improve health care quality, rein in costs, and standardize medical practice. Clinical guideline development has been prodigious, while less effort has been expended on the guidelines' dissemination and implementation. This study examines family physician attitudes toward and perceived uses of clinical guidelines in practice.
Methods: A survey questionnaire was sent to 978 family physicians in Upstate New York to assess their confidence in clinical guidelines developed or endorsed by organizations and the perceived usefulness of such guidelines in practice. Descriptive analyses, chi-square tests, and comparison of means (one-way ANOVA) were conducted.
Results: After two mailings, the response rate was 43%. Most respondents perceived clinical guidelines as effective educational tools that should improve the quality of patient care, but were concerned about their potential regulatory intrusion into practice. Solo practitioners expressed more negative attitudes regarding clinical guidelines than physicians in non-solo practices. Respondents had greater confidence in clinical guidelines developed or endorsed by their professional society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, and the National Institutes of Health, but less in those by insurance companies or state health departments. The reported adoption rate of clinical guidelines was low. The most preferred methods for adoption were continuing medical education and practice interventions.
Conclusions: Family physicians found clinical guidelines to be valuable educational tools but were divided on their potential regulatory role. If clinical guidelines are to improve quality in practice, they must be more effectively disseminated and implemented. To broaden physicians' adoption of clinical guidelines, further research into dissemination and implementation methods is warranted, along with wider endorsement of guidelines by those whom family physicians trust.