Practice parameters assist care-providers in the selection of an appropriate path for the management of a specific clinical problem. Also referred to as practice guidelines, clinical protocols, algorithms, or practice standards, practice parameters assist clinical decision-making in improving quality, effectiveness, and appropriateness of care (Cahn 1994). The American College of Critical Care Medicine has adopted the terminology practice parameters and differentiated it from standards and guidelines by the following definitions: parameters represent 'expert consensus on therapeutic issues that identify recommendations upon which appropriate clinical judgments may be based', standards are 'a sociological designation of a level of requirement, excellence, or attainment', and guidelines define 'a statement of policy by an agency having interests in or authority over an activity' ( Shapiro 1995).
Practice guidelines can be used to free practitioners from the need to 'weigh the pros and cons of every decision, connect practitioners as a collective consciousness, bring order, direction and consistency and provide an intellectual vehicle for applying research to practice, and pool the expertise of many' ( Eddy 1990). This contrast is shown in Table 1.
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Table 1 The contrast between standards, policies, and practice parameters
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