Clinical Practice Guidelines and Standards of Care

Key Points

  • Clinical practice guidelines are published by professional medical organizations to inform healthcare professionals and providers about benefits and risks of diagnostic and treatment options.
  • Using rigorous evidence-based methods, reviewers assess the strength of evidence for each recommendation.
  • The Society for Integrative Oncology creates authoritative clinical practice guidelines for integrative cancer care.
  • Standards of care relate to reasonable and customary established standards and are often considered in malpractice actions.

Clinical practice guidelines are statements developed by third-party organizations such as these:

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While guidelines identify and describe generally recommended courses of intervention, they are not presented as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other knowledgeable healthcare professional or provider.

Guidelines are usually created by a panel of experts looking at all the evidence for or against a therapy. A systematic review is conducted using rigorous evidence-based methodology. The strength of evidence for each recommendation explicitly stated. Reviewers conduct an assessment of the benefits and harms of therapies and treatments.

Guidelines serve several purposes, including these:

SIO Recommendation Grades

The Society for Integrative Oncology grades therapies according to the evidence of benefit or harm, with a corresponding recommendation for or against use. This is a typical grading system, although the grade labels vary among publications:1

  • Grade A recommends the therapy (there is high certainty that the net benefit is substantial: offer/provide this therapy).

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  • Assist practitioners and patients in making decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances
  • Define for healthcare professionals the role of specific diagnostic and treatment modalities in the diagnosis and management of patients.

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Standards of Care

A standard of care is “a diagnostic and treatment process that a clinician should follow for a certain type of patient, illness, or clinical circumstance.”3 Standards of care are often called on in malpractice or other legal actions wishing to show that a healthcare provider failed to provide care or performed harmful actions outside reasonable and customary established standards. A 2011 article provided this legal interpretation: “the standard of care is what a minimally competent physician in the same field would do in the same situation, with the same resources.”4

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS. Updated January 7, 2019.

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