Purpose. To examine attitudes of faculty, housestaff, and medical students toward clinical practice guidelines. Method. In a 1997 cross- sectional survey, a two-part, 26-item, self-administered questionnaire was mailed to all faculty, housestaff, and medical students in the department of internal medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The questionnaire asked for demographic information and attitudes toward clinical guidelines. Results. Of 379 persons surveyed, 254 (67%) returned usable questionnaires: 56% of the medical students, 70% of the housestaff, and 73% of the full-time faculty. Medical students reported learning about guidelines predominantly during clerkships in internal medicine (71%) and pediatrics (68%). Overall, the respondents agreed most strongly that guidelines are 'useful for the care of common problems,' and least strongly that guidelines are 'difficult to apply to individual patients' and 'reduce physician options in patient care.' Faculty were more likely to consider guidelines a 'good educational tool' and less likely than were medical students and housestaff to agree that they promote 'cookbook medicine.' Of 11 influences on clinical decision making, the three groups together rated practice guidelines eighth or ninth. The use of guidelines for academic investigations was rated most appropriate, overall. In terms of their appropriateness, faculty consistently rated the use of guidelines more favorably except for use in malpractice suits. Conclusion. Faculty, housestaff, and medical students have significantly different perceptions of and attitudes toward clinical practice guidelines. Further studies are needed to explain the reasons for these differences. Considerable education and involvement must occur at all levels for practice guidelines to be successfully implemented and understood.
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