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Clinical practice guidelines, based on the concept of evidence-based medicine, have positively impacted care of patients with cardiovascular disease, since their introduction over 30 years ago. Guidelines both ‘guide’ clinical practice and inform national and local healthcare policy. Now, a new definition for trustworthy guidelines—supported by explicit standards—is a major advance widely recognised by the guideline community, but largely unknown within the cardiology community.1
Current cardiology guidelines
Cardiology guidelines typically are developed and published by national and international professional organisations, most notably the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and American College of Cardiology (ACC). Most cardiology guidelines address an entire disease process, such as heart failure, valvular heart disease or acute myocardial infarction, with numerous recommendations resulting in quite lengthy documents. Guideline development by organisations such as the ESC or ACC has relied on volunteer writing groups who are expected to review the published research, prepare evidence tables summarising these data, write recommendations with explanatory text and prepare clinical decision pathway flow charts.2 An oversight committee sets standards for guideline development and directs this process. Committees usually include representation from partner societies to ensure clinical expertise in various aspects of clinical care, for example, cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, anaesthesiologists and imaging experts. After committee members reach a consensus on each recommendation, a rigorous process of internal and external reviews, with revision in response to each reviewer's comment, helps ensure a robust document at the time of publication.
We all agree that these guidelines set a high standard of care for patients with cardiovascular disease and provide practical guidance for clinical cardiologists. However, the current process is no longer viable; we need a new approach. Clinical cardiology research is an actively expanding field, with more publications continuously adding to the existing evidence base. Current cardiology guideline development often falls short of meeting key standards …
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