Written by Niall Harrison on Tuesday 3rd October 2023
When writing up results of scientific studies, researchers benefit greatly from reporting guidelines.
Guidelines such as CONSORT (for randomized clinical trials) and PRISMA (for systematic reviews) ensure that researchers provide detailed information about their methods and results, allowing readers to better interpret and replicate study findings.
It’s an approach that boosts trust and confidence in scientific literature, according to Niall Harrison, senior scientific director, medical communications at OPEN Health.
There is also a need for reporting guidance for consensus methods, which are often used in health care to determine clinical recommendations, research priorities and policy directions.
Harrison noted that “Consensus methods are a good tool for synthesizing expert perspectives on evidence to formulate recommendations …almost all major clinical practice guidelines include a consensus process” and pointed to pandemic treatment recommendations as a recent example of rapid consensus-based guideline development.
There are reporting guidelines for specific situations, including the CREDES (Conducting and REporting DElphi Studies) guideline for palliative care studies, as well as guidelines such as COS-STAR (Core Outcome Set–STAndards for Reporting), which ask researchers to report the consensus method used as part of the study. However, there has not been a broad reporting guideline for all consensus methods. The gap has proved problematic.
A Consensus About Consensus
Besides the sheer number of consensus methods, there has also been significant variance in how researchers reported their work; some included all the nuances of their process and decision-making while others were vague, including statements such as, “We used the Delphi process.” The result, Harrison noted, was “a lack of standardization and lack of information about what constitutes good reporting.”
The goal of the ACCORD reporting guideline is to increase the clarity and transparency of the reporting of studies using consensus methods, and in doing so enhance confidence in consensus panels and trust in their recommendations.
The project started in 2021, when Harrison posted a question about reporting guidelines for consensus methods on the forum of the International Society of Medical Publication Professionals. Members agreed that a tool was needed.
Harrison now co-chairs the ACCORD steering committee, which includes researchers, clinicians, publication professionals and journal editors. The committee themselves used a consensus method to develop ACCORD, which is the first tool of its kind applicable to all areas of health research, globally.
In developing ACCORD, the steering committee conducted a systematic literature review and collated recommendations from multiple areas to develop a draft checklist. A 60-member panel of experts then voted and provided feedback on the draft items, narrowing it to a 35-item checklist that covers all aspects of a scientific manuscript describing a study that uses a consensus method.
Harrison stressed that ACCORD is not a guideline for how to do a consensus; it’s a guideline for how to report on the use of a consensus method. And, he noted, "in writing up the project, we wanted to present an example of consensus reported well."
A New ACCORD?
To ensure transparency in their approach, the steering committee registered the ACCORD protocol with the EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network, an international initiative that monitors reporting guidelines to improve the value of published health research, then published their project protocol and the results of their systematic review. Now, they have submitted the final guideline to a peer-reviewed journal. A preprint is available.
The next step is to increase awareness of the guideline among researchers to encourage its use when reporting consensus methods; Harrison is hoping journal editors, peer reviewers and publishers will begin requiring completed copies of ACCORD checklists as part of their pre-publication materials.
The more ACCORD is used in scientific reporting, he explained, the easier it will be for readers to understand the methods used to develop consensus and evaluate the recommendations made.
“This was a genuine gap in the literature, and OPEN Health has taken a lead in filling it,” Harrison said. “More broadly, reporting guidance is something that anyone working in scientific literature should be aware of because it has been shown that it does make papers easier to understand and more complete — readers get more out of papers if reporting guidance has been followed.”
Working in partnership with our clients, we embrace our different perspectives and strengths to deliver fresh thinking and solutions that make a difference.
Together we can unlock possibilities.
For information about OPEN Health’s services and how we could support you, please get in touch.