This review ‘identified that, despite the availability of evidence, taxonomies, theories, models and instruments by which to plan implementation, guidelines are most often implemented using educational strategies and print material. Most of the studies reviewed here achieved positive impact, which perhaps conflicts with the results of systematic reviews demonstrating that educational meetings and print material have a small impact on professional behaviour. Therefore, ongoing research might focus on ways to optimize the design of educational strategies and print material’.

The authors identified 32 eligible studies. All but one were done in high-income countries and most (21) focused on diabetes with other studies on arthritis (4), colorectal cancer (3) and heart failure (4). What is missing is research on guideline implementation in low-resource settings.

CITATION: Trends in guideline implementation: a scoping systematic review

Implementation Science Sample


Anna R Gagliardi, Samia Alhabib, and the members of the Guidelines International Network Implementation Working Group


Corresponding author:


Background: There is currently no reliable way to choose strategies that are appropriate for implementing guidelines facing different barriers. This study examined trends in guideline implementation by topic over a 10-year period to explore whether and how strategies may be suitable for addressing differing barriers.

Methods: A scoping systematic review was performed. MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched from 2004 to 2013 for studies that evaluated the implementation of guidelines on arthritis, diabetes, colorectal cancer and heart failure. Data on study characteristics, reason for implementation (new guideline or quality improvement), implementation strategy used, rationale for selecting that strategy and reported impact were extracted and summarized. Interventions were mapped against a published taxonomy of guideline implementation strategies.

Results: The search resulted in 1,709 articles; 156 were retrieved and 127 were excluded largely because they did not evaluate guideline implementation, leaving 32 eligible for review (4 arthritis, 3 colorectal cancer, 21 diabetes, 4 heart failure). Six of 7 randomized trials and 8 of 25 observational studies had a low risk of bias. Most studies promoted guideline use for quality improvement (78.0%). Few studies rationalized strategy choice (18.8%). Most employed multiple approaches and strategies, most often educational meetings and print material for professionals or patients. Few studies employed organizational, financial or regulatory approaches. Strategies employed that were unique to the published taxonomy included professional (print material, tailoring guidelines, self-audit training or material) and patient strategies (education, counselling, group interaction, print material, reminders). Most studies achieved positive impact (87.5%). This did not appear to be associated with guideline topic, use of theory or barrier assessment, or number or type of implementation approaches and strategies.

Conclusions: While few studies were eligible, limiting insight on how to choose implementation strategies that address guideline-specific barriers, this review identified other important findings. Education for professionals or patients and print material were the most commonly employed strategies for translating guidelines to practice. Mapping of strategies onto the published taxonomy identified gaps in guideline implementation that represent opportunities for future research and expanded the taxonomy.


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