Stakeholder-Driven Quality Improvement: A Compelling Force for Clinical Practice Guidelines

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Clinical practice guideline development should be driven by rigorous methodology, but what is less clear is where quality improvement enters the process: should it be a priority-guiding force, or should it enter only after recommendations are formulated? We argue for a stakeholder-driven approach to guideline development, with an overriding goal of quality improvement based on stakeholder perceptions of needs, uncertainties, and knowledge gaps. In contrast, the widely used topic-driven approach, which often makes recommendations based only on randomized controlled trials, is driven by epidemiologic purity and evidence rigor, with quality improvement a downstream consideration. The advantages of a stakeholder-driven versus a topic-driven approach are highlighted by comparisons of guidelines for otitis media with effusion, thyroid nodules, sepsis, and acute bacterial rhinosinusitis. These comparisons show that stakeholder-driven guidelines are more likely to address the quality improvement needs and pressing concerns of clinicians and patients, including understudied populations and patients with multiple chronic conditions. Conversely, a topic-driven approach often addresses “typical” patients, based on research that may not reflect the needs of high-risk groups excluded from studies because of ethical issues or a desire for purity of research design.

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