Clinical practice guidelines may be defined as systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate healthcare for specific clinical conditions. The practice guideline is a management plan that enables healthcare providers to make sequential decisions about testing or therapy in a given clinical situation. Given the heterogeneity of disease presentations and the complexity of making therapeutic decisions, the development of guidelines in neurosurgery presents unique problems and challenges. Clinical practice guidelines were developed in part as a method for the assessment of quality of medical care processes. Practice guidelines serve as a tool for comparisons to be made within and between healthcare delivery systems. The implementation of guidelines also allows for the acquisition of clinical and financial data that provide for outcomes analysis and other types of information. The characterization of patterns of care in different institutions and the relationship between patterns of care and outcomes will in the future allow for quality improvement, enable physicians to offer predictability and accountability to third-party interests, and contribute to an understanding of how to offer the best care to neurosurgical patients.
The author provides an overview of clinical practice guidelines and illustrates their role in the assessment of quality of patient care, demonstrates how they fit into the methodology of quality assessments, and underscores the importances of practice quidelines for the development of disease management systems.