Clinicians' attitudes to clinical practice guidelines: a systematic review

Med J Aust 2002; 177 (9): 502-506.


Objective: To systematically review surveys of clinicians' attitudes to clinical practice guidelines.

Data sources: MEDLINE, HealthStar, Embase and CINAHL were searched electronically for English-only surveys published from 1990 to 2000.

Study selection: We included surveys with responses to one or more of seven propositions (see below). Studies were excluded if they had fewer than 100 respondents or if the response rate was less than 60%.

Results: Thirty studies included responses to one or more of the seven items, giving a total of 11 611 responses. The response rate for the included studies was 72% (95% confidence interval [CI], 69%–75%). Clinicians agreed that guidelines were helpful sources of advice (weighted mean, 75%; 66%–83%), good educational tools (71%; 63%–79%) and intended to improve quality (70%; 60%–80%). However, clinicians also considered guidelines impractical and too rigid to apply to individual patients (30%; 23%–36%), that they reduced physician autonomy and oversimplified medicine (34%; 22%–47%), would increase litigation (41%; 32%–49%) and were intended to cut healthcare costs (52.8%; 39%–66%).

Conclusions: Surveys of healthcare providers consistently report high satisfaction with clinical practice guidelines and a belief that they will improve quality, but there are concerns about the practicality of guidelines, their role in cost-cutting and their potential for increasing litigation.

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  • Cynthia M Farquhar1
  • Emma W Kofa2
  • Jean R Slutsky3

  • Centre for Practice Technology Assessment, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD, USA.

Correspondence: c.farquhar@auckland.ac.nz


Dr C M Farquhar was supported by the Commonwealth Fund of New York. Ms Kofa was sponsored as a Summer Intern by the Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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