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Open Access Research article

FORM: An Australian method for formulating and grading recommendations in evidence-based clinical guidelines

Susan Hillier1*, Karen Grimmer-Somers1, Tracy Merlin2, Philippa Middleton3, Janet Salisbury4, Rebecca Tooher5 and Adele Weston6

Author Affiliations

1 international Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia, Australia

2 Adelaide Health Technology Assessment (AHTA), School of Population Health and Clinical Practice, University of Adelaide, Australia

3 Australian Research Centre for Health of Women and Babies, University of Adelaide, Australia

4 Biotext Pty Ltd, PO Box 178, Deakin West, ACT 2600, Australia

5 Vaccinology and Immunology Research Trials Unit, Women's and Children's Hospital, Australia

6 Health Technology Analysts Pty Ltd, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-23

Published: 28 February 2011

Abstract

Background

Clinical practice guidelines are an important element of evidence-based practice. Considering an often complicated body of evidence can be problematic for guideline developers, who in the past may have resorted to using levels of evidence of individual studies as a quasi-indicator for the strength of a recommendation. This paper reports on the production and trial of a methodology and associated processes to assist Australian guideline developers in considering a body of evidence and grading the resulting guideline recommendations.

Methods

In recognition of the complexities of clinical guidelines and the multiple factors that influence choice in health care, a working group of experienced guideline consultants was formed under the auspices of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to produce and pilot a framework to formulate and grade guideline recommendations. Consultation with national and international experts and extensive piloting informed the process.

Results

The FORM framework consists of five components (evidence base, consistency, clinical impact, generalisability and applicability) which are used by guideline developers to structure their decisions on how to convey the strength of a recommendation through wording and grading via a considered judgement form. In parallel (but separate from the grading process) guideline developers are asked to consider implementation implications for each recommendation.

Conclusions

The framework has now been widely adopted by Australian guideline developers who find it to be a logical and intuitive way to formulate and grade recommendations in clinical practice guidelines.