Background Guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) summarise the best available evidence in the management of cardiac disease. These guidelines are graded according to ESC-predefined scales of class of recommendation from I-III and levels of evidence from A-C. We evaluated the development of ESC guidelines since 2000.
Method We reviewed recommendations from all ESC guidelines from 2000–14, collating classes of recommendation and level of evidence for each. We assessed the number and percentages of each class of recommendation and determined temporal changes in proportion.
Results Out of 52 guidelines, we extracted 4547 recommendations, with 67% being in Class I or III, indicating unequivocal guidance. Regarding the level of evidence for these recommendations, we found that only 18% were class A, indicating high quality evidence, and 50% were class C, indicating consensus opinion or small studies. From 2000–2014, there were minor changes in the proportions of different classes of recommendation and levels of evidence.
Conclusions Medicine is rapidly changing and cardiologists face difficult challenges in the application of a growing number of recommendations of difference evidence level to guide clinical practice. Our analysis highlights that 33% of all guideline statements are in the equivocal class (II), with 82% of guidelines not based upon the highest level of evidence. Over 14 years there have been minimal changes in proportions of class of recommendation and level of evidence. Our findings suggest the need to improve the level of evidence underpinning current guidance to increase the proportion of unequivocal guidance recommendations.
- ESC Guidelines
- Evidence based medicine
- Clinical recommendations
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