Economic issues in the development and use of practice guidelines: an application to resource allocation in dentistry.
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In this paper, the extent to which practice guidelines using cost-effectiveness data can be used to inform programme decisions is analysed. In particular it is shown that guidelines aimed at informing individual patient-provider decisions are unable to reflect the economic concepts that are required to inform public decisions concerned with making best (i.e., most productive) use of the resources available to serve defined populations. The research on which practice guidelines are based represents an important but incomplete source of information for taking decisions about which clients to serve, with which services, and when in the disease process, in the context of provision of services to groups or populations. Moreover, the inappropriate use of 'individually focused' guidelines to inform 'collectively-focused' decisions can lead to more harm than good. An alternative approach for dealing with the difficult choices faced by decision makers involved in public programmes is identified. An illustration of the proposed approach is presented concerning the provision of pit and fissure sealants to children served by a public health clinic.
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