How do we know if a clinical practice guideline is good? A response to Djulbegovic and colleagues' use of fast-and-frugal decision trees to improve clinical care strategies
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Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) and clinical pathways have become important tools for improving the uptake of evidence-based care. Where CPGs are good, adherence to the recommendations within is thought to result in improved patient outcomes. However, the usefulness of such tools for improving patient important outcomes depends both on adherence to the guideline and whether or not the CPG in question is good. This begs the question of what it is that makes a CPG good? In this issue of the Journal, Djulbegovic and colleagues offer a theory to help guide the development of CPGs. The "fast-and-frugal tree" (FFT) heuristic theory is purported to provide the theoretical structure needed to quantitatively assess clinical guidelines in practice, something that the lack of theory to guide CPG development has precluded. In this paper, I examine the role of FFTs in providing an adequate theoretical framework for developing CPGs. In my view, positioning guideline development within the FFT framework may help with problems related to adherence. However, I believe that FTTs fall short in providing panel members with the theoretical basis needed to justify which factors should be considered when developing a CPG, how information on those factors derived from research studies should be interpreted, and how those factors should be integrated into the recommendation.
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