Over half of clinical practice guidelines use non-systematic methods to inform recommendations: A methods study.
Lunny C, Ramasubbu C, Puil L, Liu T, Gerrish S, Salzwedel DM, Mintzes B, Wright JM.
PloS one. 2021; 16(4): e0250356

Abstract

INTRODUCTION: Assessing the process used to synthesize the evidence in clinical practice guidelines enables users to determine the trustworthiness of the recommendations. Clinicians are increasingly dependent on guidelines to keep up with vast quantities of medical literature, and guidelines are followed to avoid malpractice suits. We aimed to assess whether systematic methods were used when synthesizing the evidence for guidelines; and to determine the type of review cited in support of recommendations. METHODS: Guidelines published in 2017 and 2018 were retrieved from the TRIP and Epistemonikos databases. We randomly sorted and sequentially screened clinical guidelines on all topics to select the first 50 that met our inclusion criteria. Our primary outcomes were the number of guidelines using either a systematic or non-systematic process to gather, assess, and synthesise evidence; and the numbers of recommendations within guidelines based on different types of evidence synthesis (systematic or non-systematic reviews). If a review was cited, we looked for evidence that it was critically appraised, and recorded which quality assessment tool was used. Finally, we examined the relation between the use of the GRADE approach, systematic review process, and type of funder. RESULTS: Of the 50 guidelines, 17 (34%) systematically synthesised the evidence to inform recommendations. These 17 guidelines clearly reported their objectives and eligibility criteria, conducted comprehensive search strategies, and assessed the quality of the studies. Of the 29/50 guidelines that included reviews, 6 (21%) assessed the risk of bias of the review. The quality of primary studies was reported in 30/50 (60%) guidelines. CONCLUSIONS: High quality, systematic review products provide the best available evidence to inform guideline recommendations. Using non-systematic methods compromises the validity and reliability of the evidence used to inform guideline recommendations, leading to potentially misleading and untrustworthy results.



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