Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Research Shorts: Borrowing of strength from indirect evidence

Contributed by M. Hassan Murad, M.D.

Network meta-analysis (NMA) is supposed to increase precision (because it includes more studies in the analysis); however, this is not always the case. This empirical study evaluated 915 possible treatment comparisons. The study used the recently proposed borrowing of strength statistic, which quantifies the percentage reduction in the uncertainty of the effect estimate when adding indirect evidence to an NMA

When only one study contributed direct evidence, NMAs resulted in reduced precision and no appreciable improvements in precision in 57.5% and 12.7% comparisons, respectively. When at least two studies contributed direct evidence, NMAs provided increased precision in 66.4% comparisons. The bottom-line is that, in sparse networks (i.e., networks that mostly consist of indirect evidence), NMA may not improve precision as much as stakeholders want and expect.

Reference: Lin L, Xing A, Kofler MJ, Murad MH. Borrowing of strength from indirect evidence in 40 network meta-analyses. Journal of clinical epidemiology. 2018 Oct 17.

Stating the “Obvious”: A Primer on Good Practice Statements in GRADE Guidelines

Contributed by Madelin Siedler, 2018/2019 U.S. GRADE Network Research Fellow

Stating the “Obvious”: A Primer on Good Practice Statements in GRADE Guidelines

One of the benefits of the GRADE approach is that it provides a framework for the development of evidence-based recommendations that are clear and actionable for practicing clinicians even when only lower-quality evidence is available. However, in some particular instances, caution is warranted when developing a recommendation based on low-quality evidence or inference. “Good practice statements” are one such instance. 

The term “good practice statement” is sometimes interchanged for “motherhood statement”.” In either case, the practice being recommended is usually something that is already commonly accepted as beneficial or practical advice. It could even be seen as irrefutably “good” as motherhood and apple pie (hence the term). The nature of these types of statements is such that the action is seen as so obviously beneficial that it would be unduly onerous to conduct a review to demonstrate its efficacy.

An example of a good practice statement is the first recommendation from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA)’s 2015 guideline on the management of asymptomatic pancreatic cysts, which reads, “The AGA recommends that before starting any pancreatic cyst surveillance program, patients should have a clear understanding of programmatic risks and benefits” (Vege et al., 2015).

How to Spot a Good Practice Statement
An easy way to identify a good practice statement is to restate the recommendation as its inverse: for instance, “patients should not have a clear understanding of programmatic risks and benefits.” If this “unstated alternative” is absurd or clearly does not conform to ethical norms, the original statement is likely a good practice statement (Guyatt et al., 2016).

The Problem with Good Practice Statements
The GRADE Working Group recommends that good practice statements be used sparingly, if at all. Because good practice guidance is typically based on several linked sources of indirect evidence, there is no way to tell whether the benefits of the proposed recommended action are as truly obvious or incontestable as they seem. And if they are (if the inverse of the proposed recommendation would be absurd or unethical) then they are likely unwarranted and can dilute the strength of the guideline as a whole. 

Sometimes, good practice statements may even appear as graded recommendations in a guideline (a decision that’s not recommended by the GRADE working group for the reasons above). In this case, the guideline authors may be tempted to make a strong recommendation based on low-quality evidence, which should ideally be a rare occurrence and based on well-defined criteria (Guyatt et al., 2015). 

Practical Advice for Dealing with Good Practice Statements
The GRADE Working Group recommends using the following checklist to determine whether a good practice statement is warranted:
  1. Is the statement clear and actionable? 
  2. Is the message really necessary in regards to actual health practice? 
  3. After consideration of all relevant health outcomes and potential downstream consequences, will implementing the good practice statement result in large net positive consequences? 
  4. Is collecting and summarizing the evidence a poor use of a guideline panel’s limited time and energy? 
  5. Is there a well-documented clear and explicit rationale connecting the indirect evidence?
If the answer is 'yes' to all five questions, a good practice statement may be warranted for inclusion in a guideline document. When done correctly, good practice advice statements should appear as ungraded recommendations, meaning no formal rating of quality of evidence or strength of recommendation should be given (Guyatt et al., 2015).

However, many potential good practice statements will be eliminated through the use of this checklist. For instance, careful consideration of Question #3 could lead the panel to realize that the assumed net positive of a specific action may not be so obvious after all. In this case, the guideline panel should consider whether a thorough review of the evidence should be conducted and formal grading methods applied.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Research Shorts: When continuous outcomes are measured using different scales

Contributed by M. Hassan Murad, MD

Outcomes of great importance to patients, such as quality of life and severity of anxiety or depression, are often measured using different scales. When an outcome is measured using several scales across trials, it requires standardization to be pooled in a meta-analysis.

Common methods of standardization include using the standardized mean difference (SMD), converting continuous data to binary relative and absolute association measures, the minimally important difference (MID), the ratio of means, and transforming standardized effects back to original scales. The underlying assumption in all these methods is that the different scales measure the same construct. This paper, in BMJ, describes these methods and suggests approaches for interpretation.

Reference: Murad Mohammad Hassan, Wang Zhen, Chu Haitao, Lin Lifeng. When continuous outcomes are measured using different scales: guide for meta-analysis and interpretation BMJ 2019; 364 :k4817. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fall 2018 Scholarship Recipients

Contributed by Madelin Siedler, 2018/2019 U.S GRADE Network Research Fellow

We were pleased to support the participation of three research scholars at our recent GRADE guideline development workshop held in Silver Spring, Maryland, October 17-19, 2018. By providing complementary registration, we hope that these scholars increased their understanding and application of the GRADE approach. As part of the U.S. GRADE Network/Evidence Foundation scholarship, recipients presented to fellow workshop participants about their interests and current endeavors in the field of guideline development.

Scholarship recipients: Oilvia Magwood, Mohamad Kalot, and Mohammed Alkhatib

A few details about our Fall 2018 scholarship recipients:

Mohamad Kalot, MD, a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas, applied for the scholarship due to his interest in improving quality and decreasing disparities in healthcare through the development of evidence-based guidelines. Dr. Kalot presented on his current work in the development of guidelines for the management of rare diseases. Dr. Kalot explained how the development of such guidelines presents a unique challenge in that there is often a dearth of research on these populations, which can affect the directness of evidence among other factors.

“Since an important part of my conducted reviews and research deals with developing guidelines for rare diseases, I would ultimately face specific challenges in the process of assessing the certainty of evidence in my work, and I’m interested in exploring innovative methods to deal with these challenges,” said Kalot. “The GRADE workshop in Silver Spring didn’t only help me find solutions for my challenges, it made me see the research methodology world from a different, deeper and more practical perspective - especially with the very helpful tools [RevMan and GRADEpro Guideline Development Tool] that we learned about in the small groups sessions and the discussions about rating up and rating down the quality of evidence.”

Olivia Magwood, MPH, attended from the Buyere Research Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, where she has participated in the development of three national and international guidelines. Ms. Magwood presented on the development of the FACE (Feasibility, Acceptability, Cost, and Equity) Framework Stakeholder Survey. The FACE Stakeholder Survey aims to identify cognitive bias that may influence guideline development as well as inform the quality and impact and improve the uptake of evidence-based recommendations in various stakeholder groups.

“For me, the GRADE workshop highlighted the importance of building my network and having the right people on your team throughout the guideline development process,” explained Magwood. “This includes involving methodologists early and throughout guideline development, as well as emphasizing patient perspectives, especially while deciding on patient-important outcomes. Guideline development is truly a collaborative process that benefits from multi-stakeholder engagement.”

Mohammed Alkhatib, MD, a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas, applied for the scholarship due to his interest in examining and refining the adoption, adaptation and de novo development (or “adolopment,” for short) of guidelines to be used in lower-resource settings. Dr. Alkhatib presented on the importance of this approach, as well as the unique challenges of tailoring the development of clinical recommendations to settings with limited resources, such as developing nations and areas of conflict.

“It was an exceptional experience for me to present my proposal in front of high-level scholars of guideline development and to listen to their positive feedback,” said Alkhatib. “[The] GRADE workshop was very helpful for me at the level of interpretation of [systematic reviews] and how to judge strengths and weaknesses using GRADEpro.”

**If interested in applying for a scholarship to future GRADE workshops, more details can be found here: Please note the deadline for applications to our next workshop in Denver, Colorado will be January 1, 2019.