Evidence-based guidelines are recommendations for medical treatment rooted in clinical trials, observation, professional opinions, and ongoing studies. They are designed to improve the standard and quality of patient care while also ensuring that patients get access to appropriate treatment for medical conditions. Sources of evidence-based guidelines can include individual institutions, professional organizations, advocacy groups, and government agencies. Medical providers are not required to follow them, but may be advised or strongly encouraged to do so.
Information used in the development of evidence-based guidelines can vary in nature. Controlled clinical trials are a good source of information because they ideally take place in an unbiased environment focused on finding out the efficacy of a treatment and determining how it should be applied. Ongoing studies can also be helpful, as they show how patients respond in the real world to treatments, and they can help medical practitioners develop off-label treatments and expand the scope of care.
Epidemiology data can be helpful, as can opinions from experts in the field, based on their own research and experience. This information is balanced carefully because developers of evidence-based guidelines want them to be objective as possible. A surgeon who recommends a specific approach in heart surgery, for example, needs to be able to provide information on patient outcomes, experience with other approaches, and how other colleagues might approach the same procedure. Analysts can review the information to determine if it supports the claim.
Using evidence-based guidelines can help medical providers be consistent in the application of treatment to their patients. This can address liability concerns; a doctor who is sued for malpractice, for example, can provide evidence that a patient received treatment in line with medical standards. It also may reduce the risk of missing a key component of a diagnosis and treatment plan. For example, evidence-based guidelines for the use of antibiotics specifically discuss potential drug interactions and the need to perform susceptibility cultures.
Many guidelines are available to members of the public who might have an interest in reviewing them; these often can be found through government agencies and professional organizations. In some cases, journal subscriptions are required to access them. A medical library may allow members of the public to read journals, and sometimes a large public library also has a journal access agreement. Patients can also ask about the specific evidence-based guidelines in their cases and how they will be applied if they want to learn more.