New tool helps physicians assess usefulness of clinical guidelines for patient outcomes

Eight-item checklist may help doctors identify guidelines that can be used in the clinic
September 11, 2017

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Siobhan Gallagher

BOSTON (Sept. 11, 2017, 5:00 p.m. ET)—A team of researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and colleagues have developed a new tool, G-TRUST (the Guideline Trustworthiness, Relevance, and Utility Scoring Tool) to help clinicians assess the usefulness of clinical guidelines in the treatment of their patients. The related study is published today in Annals of Family Medicine.

Recommended guidelines are typically the result of evidence-based medical protocols developed by physicians regarded as experts in their respective fields and are among the important inputs that physicians employ when diagnosing patients and designing treatment plans. Guidelines are generally codified and published by physician professional organizations and medical governing bodies and widely used as recommended standard practice across the United States and many other countries. However, there can be many practice guidelines available in a specific clinical context, not all of which may be useful.

“In every medical specialty, physicians are required to review multiple sets of practice guidelines to determine their usefulness for a specific patient’s treatment. Such tools are often developed primarily for research and further guideline development rather than direct clinical application,” said first and corresponding author Allen Shaughnessy, Pharm.D., M.Med.Ed., professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and fellowship director of the Tufts University Family Medicine Residency Program at Cambridge Health Alliance.

As an aid to practicing clinicians, the research team developed a straightforward eight-point tool for scoring clinical guidelines to assess their usefulness that can be applied in a clinical setting.

“The goal of this project was to develop a simple, easy-to-use tool for clinicians to identify trustworthy, relevant, and useful practice guidelines,” he continued.

The result of this effort, the G-TRUST tool, was developed using a modified Delphi process to obtain consensus of a panel of experts including 22 experts in evidence-based medicine, 17 developers of high-quality guidelines, and one consumer representative. To prepare the Delphi panel, the research team reviewed publications from the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM, formerly the Institute of Medicine, and now part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) as well as their own prior research and other research on clinical guidelines. The Delphi panel examined the resulting checklist of assessment items and rated the relative impact of each item on guideline quality. The research group conducted four rounds of Delphi review to refine wording, add and subtract items, and develop a scoring system.

Using the Delphi expert consensus, the team created an eight-item checklist designed to help clinicians quickly identify useful guidelines that can be used in the clinic.

“Our instrument identified almost all (92 percent) of the ‘low quality’ guidelines and, based on our tighter definition of trustworthiness, disqualified many that previously were considered to be of ‘high quality,’” said last author Lisa Cosgrove, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, adding, “The items in G-TRUST address issues and concerns voiced by the NAM report and other critiques of existing clinical guidelines.”

Additional authors on this study are Akansha Vaswani, M.S., and Bonnie K. Andrews, M.P.H., both graduate research assistants in the department of counseling and school psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Deborah R. Erlich, M.D., M.Med.Ed., assistant professor of family medicine at Tuft University School of Medicine; Frank D’Amico, Ph.D., professor of mathematics in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University; and Joel Lexchin, M.D., professor at the School of Health Policy and Management at York University in Toronto, Canada.

This work was supported by the Association for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Small Research Grant (award R03 HS22940-01A1) to Lisa Cosgrove.

Shaughnessy, A.F., Vaswani, A., Andrews, B.K., Erlich, D.R., D’Amico, F., Lexchin, J., Cosgrove, L. Developing a Clinician Friendly Tool to Identify Useful Clinical Practice Guidelines: G-TRUST. Ann Fam Med 2017;15:413-418. https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.2119 (Published Sept. 11, 2017.)

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About Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences are international leaders in medical and population health education and advanced research. Tufts University School of Medicine emphasizes rigorous fundamentals in a dynamic learning environment to educate physicians, scientists, and public health professionals to become leaders in their fields. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, the biomedical sciences, and public health, as well as for research at the cellular, molecular, and population health level. The School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School undertake research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical and prevention science.

About UMass Boston
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