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Guideline implementation in allied health professions: a systematic review of the literature


Background: Clinical guidelines aim to improve the safety and quality of patient care by providing clinicians with graded recommendations based on evidence of best practice.

Objective: To evaluate the effects of the introduction of clinical guidelines for allied health professionals, and to estimate the effectiveness of the guideline dissemination and implementation strategies used.

Methods: A comprehensive search of six electronic databases to June 2006 and the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care database was conducted. Randomised controlled trials, controlled clinical trials, controlled before and after studies and interrupted time series studies were included if the intervention was aimed at implementing guidelines in the allied health professions. Articles were screened for eligibility and their methodological quality was assessed; data were extracted independently by two reviewers.

Results: Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The methodological quality varied greatly, with the proportion of quality criteria met ranging from 0 to 6 out of seven. In most studies, the effects reported for patient and process outcomes were small and in favour of the intervention group. Of the 14 included studies, 10 focused on educational interventions. Six of the 14 studies used a single intervention strategy and seven used a multi-faceted implementation strategy. One study compared both single and multi-faceted strategies. Multi-faceted interventions were no more effective than single intervention strategies and effects of the same strategy varied across trials.

Conclusions: There is no evidence to support a set guideline implementation strategy for allied health professionals. When implementing clinical guidelines it is important to first identify specific barriers to change using theoretical frameworks of behaviour change and then develop strategies that deal with these barriers. When measuring the effectiveness of these strategies, professionals should consider the use of both patient and process outcomes and choose outcomes that reflect their aims.

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