Docs and patients need more user-friendly medical guidelines

doctor and patient

The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services’ “quick” asthma guidelines run 11 pages. For doctors juggling 30 patient visits a day, understanding these and other guidelines is a daunting exercise.

That’s why a handful of researchers are calling for the availability of new tools to encourage joint decision-making between doctors and their patients in a recent BMJ article.

What patients and healthcare providers really need are “knowledge tools” that quickly compare treatment options, provide an overview of relevant medical debates and outline the uncertainties related to a patient’s healthcare condition, write the co-authors. For example, such a tool could illustrate the reality that the prostate specific antigen test also presents risks--in contrast with some patients’ understanding of the test.

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“We’re undergoing a change in the way the public and physicians get medical information and make healthcare decisions,” says Glyn Elwyn, M.D., a professor at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, in an announcement. “We need tools that reflect the constant flow of multi-sourced information, yet are short and sweet and accurate.”

Not only are the number of clinical guidelines overwhelming, other problems with such guidelines include the following:

  • Authors often have competing interests, which can lead to lack of credibility
  • Conflicting guidance--due to researchers interpreting the evidence differently and, thus, drawing different conclusions--can lead to increased confusion
  • Oversimplication--based on a single, well-defined disease state--might not lead to appropriate treatment plans for patients living with more than one chronic condition
  • Time can be the enemy, since developing appropriate guidelines can take many years—and the guidelines thus become out of date.

- read the study abstract

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