Clinical guidelines for general practitioners typically take months, if not years, to be developed. But during the current pandemic, a special Taskforce, together with expert panels, have transformed patient care by developing a set of world-first, weekly-updated clinical guidelines.
Life on the frontline
Our general practitioners and primary health practitioners have an enormous job. They look after people from all ages, backgrounds, and often with co-existing medical conditions. When a global health crisis hits, like the COVID-19 pandemic, our GPs are often the first health professional we speak to.
While GPs have access to mountains of research, they don’t have the time to monitor, read, interpret and critique the ever-changing, often-varying information. Clinical guidelines also have their limitations – they have traditionally only relied on clinical trials, been slow to produce and update, and use highly technical and specialist language.
This presents a challenge when crises like the COVID-19 pandemic emerge, and GPs are unsure which aspect of research evidence or guideline to refer to.
A rapid response
In recent months, innovative primary care leaders across Australia seized the challenge and pivoted from publishing traditional static guidelines to a dynamic new solution. The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce was established by the Australian Living Evidence Consortium, in partnership with Cochrane Australia and many representative healthcare peak bodies.
GPs now receive weekly updates to the living guidelines that provides a roadmap for evidence-based practice and better patient care. The weekly guidelines provide practical, first-contact advice for identifying and treating patients. This means GPs have the most up-to-date recommendations for patients who have mild, moderate, or severe illness and for patients with pre-existing chronic diseases.
Inside an Expert Panel
Professor Mark Morgan from Bond University is Chair of the RACGP Quality Care Committee and heads up the Expert Panel for the COVID-19 guidelines for primary care and care of patients with chronic conditions. This consortium of academic and clinical leaders update the living guidelines weekly. The process involves searching the growing pool of published and unpublished trials, evaluating the evidence and summarising as a set of recommendations. For clarity, each recommendation is described in terms of how certain the experts are of the evidence and how strong the recommendation is for an Australian context.
Unlike many guideline groups, the Expert Panel considers the equity, availability and acceptability of treatments. The living guideline is presented in a language and format that is accessible for policy makers and coalface clinicians.
Improving through innovation
Our GP leaders have taken the opportunity to be innovative and improve practice for patients and doctors in primary care practice, during this current pandemic. They have identified an urgent problem and developed a practical solution to manage the constant flow of new research evidence for all of their patients. They are implementing and improving this guideline across the country in real time.
Thanks to their innovation, our health system is improving, along with the patient care.
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