Objectives: Evidence-based guideline committees are multidisciplinary and explicitly consider the existing evidence. They are thus in an ideal position to identify research gaps. However, gaps have not been systematically identified through guidelines. We pilot tested a method to systematically identify and classify gaps from evidence-based guidelines.
Methods: We reviewed all evidence-based guidelines published by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. We identified research gaps as topics for which there was insufficient evidence (recommendations were not made or consensus recommendations were made) and topics specified as needing further research. We characterized gaps using a standard framework and classified them by type of management issue, specificity of target population, and age of target population.
Results: We identified sixty-two research gaps in five guidelines (mean = 12.4/guidelines document). While thirteen gaps were topics specified as needing further research, most (n = 49) were topics with insufficient evidence. Of these forty-nine, recommendations were not made for twenty-two topics while consensus recommendations were made for twenty-seven topics. Most gaps were issues of comparative effectiveness (44/62), addressed the general cystic fibrosis population (40/62), and were specific to infants (33/62). Relevant comparisons and outcomes were explicitly stated for only 7 percent and 16 percent of gaps respectively.
Conclusions: Almost 80 percent of the gaps were not topics identified as future research needs in the guidelines documents but rather were topics with insufficient evidence for making recommendations. Although we used cystic fibrosis in the United States as an example, the method we developed could be applied in other settings, including other countries and for different diseases.