Cochrane-WHO collaboration on qualitative evidence syntheses in guidelines showcased in new articles -

A series of papers highlighting innovative work carried out by the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group and the World Health Organization on using reviews of qualitative research in guideline development processes has been published in Health Research Policy and Systems.

Cochrane is a non-governmental organisation in official relations with WHO. The Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group, as well as other Cochrane contributors, has a long-standing relationship with WHO and works closely with them on guideline development. This fruitful collaboration had led to several innovations, such as the inclusion of qualitative evidence syntheses in WHO guideline processes and the development of GRADE-CERQual, an approach to assess the confidence of evidence from reviews of qualitative research.

EPOC produced Cochrane’s first qualitative evidence synthesis review, Barriers and facilitators to the implementation of lay health worker programmes to improve access to maternal and child health, in 2013. This review was used in a WHO guideline on health worker task shifting, providing the panel with important information about the acceptability and feasibility of lay health worker programmes and complementing another review that focused on the effectiveness of these programmes.

Since then, WHO and Cochrane EPOC have continued to collaborate. Several WHO guidelines now include evidence from Cochrane qualitative evidence syntheses, and Cochrane EPOC is working closely with WHO to improve methods for this approach.

Now, a series of papers detailing this work has been published in Health Research Policy and Systems. The articles were commissioned by WHO in response to requests for direction on how to use qualitative evidence syntheses in guidelines and were authored by a team from WHO, Cochrane staff at the Norwegian Public Health Institute and the University of Central Lancashire.

Evidence-based guidelines, such as those produced by WHO, have traditionally focused on quantitative evidence from reviews of effectiveness. However, guideline panels also discuss issues such as the cost, acceptability and feasibility of an intervention and its potential implications for equity – though this has often been done in an unsystematic way. Reviews of qualitative research can help look at these more systematically.

The three new articles, each led by a different Cochrane EPOC editor, highlight different ways that using qualitative evidence synthesis can benefit guideline development.

The series showcases several Cochrane qualitative evidence syntheses and offers practical advice to others who want to include this type of evidence in guidelines, providing examples of what was done well, and the lessons learnt. The authors also highlight knowledge gaps for further research and practice.

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