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BMJ. 1995 August 5; 311(7001): 376–380.
PMCID: PMC2550437

Consensus methods for medical and health services research.


Health providers face the problem of trying to make decisions in situations where there is insufficient information and also where there is an overload of (often contradictory) information. Statistical methods such as meta-analysis have been developed to summarise and to resolve inconsistencies in study findings--where information is available in an appropriate form. Consensus methods provide another means of synthesising information, but are liable to use a wider range of information than is common in statistical methods, and where published information is inadequate or non-existent these methods provide a means of harnessing the insights of appropriate experts to enable decisions to be made. Two consensus methods commonly adopted in medical, nursing, and health services research--the Delphi process and the nominal group technique (also known as the expert panel)--are described, together with the most appropriate situations for using them; an outline of the process involved in undertaking a study using each method is supplemented by illustrations of the authors' work. Key methodological issues in using the methods are discussed, along with the distinct contribution of consensus methods as aids to decision making, both in clinical practice and in health service development.

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Selected References

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