Professional setting might be a key determinant of physicians' attitudes toward practice guidelines, influencing the effect of their implementation. Because no previous surveys have specifically considered this aspect, we evaluated the perceived role and usefulness of guidelines, as well as barriers to and facilitators of their implementation, for hospital, primary care, and nonpracticing clinicians.
A 43-item self-administered questionnaire was sent to all National Health Service physicians in the province of Modena, Italy (593 primary care physicians, 1049 hospital physicians, and 149 nonpracticing clinicians), and 1199 (66.9%) responded. Opinions and attitudes were assessed using 5-point ordinal scales and an attitude measurement scale. Results were evaluated overall and by professional setting, sex, age, year of graduation, and academic background.
Practice guidelines were generally perceived to be less useful than other sources of medical information (eg, personal experience, conferences, colleagues, articles, the Internet, and textbooks [pharmaceutical representatives were the exception]). Most physicians thought that guidelines are developed for cost-containment reasons and expressed concerns about their limited applicability to individual patients and local settings. Most respondents did not favor the involvement of health professionals other than physicians in guideline development and use and preferred nonmonetary incentives for their implementation. Answers to individual items and attitude scores varied significantly across professional settings. Primary care physicians showed, in general, the least favorable attitudes toward practice guidelines, toward nonphysicians participating in guideline development and use, and toward incentives for guideline users.
Physicians perceived practice guidelines as externally imposed and cost-containment tools rather than as decision-supporting tools. Regularly monitoring attitudes toward practice guidelines can be helpful to evaluate potential barriers to their adoption.