Practice Guidelines and Cholesterol Policy

Journal Articles

Published By

Health Affairs, Vol. 10, page(s): 52-66



One of the most striking pieces of medical news in the 1980s revealed the connection between high blood cholesterol and a person's likelihood of developing coronary artery disease. In 1985, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health began the National Cholesterol Education Program, whose goal was to develop a national policy for reducing serum cholesterol. However, the panel that convened to formulate recommendations for screening and treatment was instructed not to consider cost in its deliberations. As Alan Garber and Judy Wagner point out in this article, failure to include costs in the development of guidelines such as these can have "far-reaching, unanticipated effects." This point is especially relevant to the new Agency for Health care Policy and Research (AHCPR) , which was formed as part of the 1989 budget reconciliation law. One of AHCPR's express mandates is to develop condition-specific treatment guidelines for nationwide use. "If the AHCPR guidelines show the same disregard for costs" that the cholesterol guidelines showed, the authors state, "they cannot be expected to guide health dollars to their most effective use."

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