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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Generalizability of guidelines and physicians' adherence. Case study on the Sixth Joint National Commitee's guidelines on hypertension

Claudio Pedone1 and Kate L Lapane23*

Author Affiliations

1 Centro di Medicina dell'Invecchiamento, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Roma, Italia

2 Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research, Brown University. Providence RI 02912, USA

3 Department of Community Health, Brown University. Providence RI 02912, USA

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BMC Public Health 2003, 3:24  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-3-24

Published: 21 July 2003



Clinical practice guidelines (CPG) are thought to be an effective tool in improving efficiency and outcomes of clinical practice. Physicians' adherence to guidelines is reported to be poor. We evaluated the relationship between generalizability of guidelines on hypertension and physicians' adherence to guidelines' recommendations for pharmacological treatment.


We used the Sixth Joint National Committee's (JNC VI) guidelines on hypertension to evaluate our hypothesis. We evaluated the evidence from controlled clinical trials on which the JNC VI bases its recommendation, and compared the population enrolled in those trials with the American hypertensive population. Data on this population came from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey III.


Twenty-three percent of the NHANES population had a diagnosis of hypertension, 11% had hypertension requiring drug treatment according to the JNC VI. Only half of the population requiring treatment would have been enrolled in at least two trials. Rate of adherence to CPG was 69%. We found a weak association between generalizability and physicians' adherence to guidelines. Baseline risk was the major determinant of the decision to treat.


JNC VI guidelines may not be generalizable to their target population. We found a relatively poor adherence rate to these guidelines. Failing of completely taking into account the clinical characteristics of the patients may be partly responsible for this lack of adherence.