Clinical practice guidelines have been defined as systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decision-making about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances. They play an important role in guiding evidence based clinical practice. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has developed and pilot-tested a new framework for guideline development, the FORM approach, the role of which has yet to be further defined.
We critically review the elements of the FORM approach and compare it to other, more established methods for rating the quality of evidence and strength of recommendations.
FORM recognizes five factors that impact the strength of a recommendation which are the evidence base, consistency, clinical impact, generalizability and applicability. Consideration of these elements leads to a four-tiered rating system represented by the letters A ("body of evidence can be trusted to guide practice") to D ("body of evidence is weak and recommendation must be applied with caution"). It builds on other existing guideline methodologies such as those developed by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), the Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy (SORT) and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) groups. FORM distinguishes itself from other systems by its strong emphasis on applicability, which is separated out as its own category and relates the relevance of the body of evidence to the Australian healthcare system.
The FORM approach offers a methodologically rigorous alternative approach to guideline development that places particular emphasis on aspects of applicability. This feature is unique and may prompt future adoption by other guidelines systems