In the era of evidence-based medicine, clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have become an integral part of many aspects of medical practice. Because practicing neurosurgeons rarely have the time or, in some cases, the methodological expertise, to assess and assimilate the totality of primary research, CPGs can in theory provide a vehicle through which neurosurgeons could more efficiently integrate the most current evidence into patient management. Clinical practice guidelines have been met with some skepticism, however, particularly within the neurosurgical community. Some have expressed concerns that the promise of CPGs has not been matched by the reality. Others who oppose CPGs fear that they hinder the art of medicine, and limit physician and patient autonomy. The purpose of this paper is to provide the practicing neurosurgeon with an up-to-date review of CPGs. The authors discuss some of the complexities and recent advancements in CPG development, appraisal, and publication. An overview of the various systems for grading medical evidence and issuing CPG recommendations, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages, is included, and the current knowledge on the impact of CPGs in 2 important realms, patient care and medicolegal issues, is discussed.
The purpose of this review is to provide a balanced, current synopsis of what CPGs are, how they are developed, and what they can and cannot do. The authors hope that this will allow neurosurgeons to make more informed decisions about the many CPGs that will inevitably become an essential component of medical practice in the years to come.