About the Consensus Development Program
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Program has produced
evidence-based consensus statements addressing controversial medical issues important
to researchers, healthcare providers, policymakers, patients, and the general public
since its inception in 1977. The Consensus Development Program is strategically
located in the NIH Office of Disease Prevention,
which provides the leadership, infrastructure, funding, and coordination necessary
to conduct Consensus Development Conferences.
A Consensus Development Conference is held when there is a strong body of evidence
about a particular medical topic, but the information has not been translated into
widespread clinical practice. The goal of each conference is to consolidate, solidify,
and broadly disseminate strong evidence-based recommendations for provider practice.
NIH Consensus Development Conference topics must satisfy the following criteria:
- Have clinical and broad public health importance—the severity of the problem and
the feasibility of interventions are key considerations.
- Be controversial or unresolved and amenable to clarification, or reflect a gap between
current knowledge and practice that can be narrowed.
- Have an adequately defined base of scientific information from which to answer conference
- Be of cross-cutting concern to a variety of stakeholders.
Before the conference, a systematic evidence review on the chosen topic is performed
by one of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Evidence-based Practice
Centers. This report is provided to the panel members approximately 6 weeks prior
to the conference and serves as a foundation of high-quality evidence upon which
the conference will build.
The conferences are held over 2 ½ days. The first day and a half of the conference
consists of plenary sessions, in which invited expert speakers present information,
followed by “town hall forums,” in which open discussion occurs among speakers,
panelists, and the general public in attendance. The panel then develops its draft
statement on the afternoon and evening of the second day, and presents it on the
morning of the third day for audience commentary. The panel considers these comments
in executive session and may revise its draft accordingly. The conference ends with
a press briefing, during which reporters are invited to question the panelists about
Each conference panel comprises 12 to 16 members, who can give balanced, objective,
and informed attention to the topic. Panel members:
- Must not be employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Must not hold financial or career (research) interests in the conference topic.
- May be knowledgeable about the general topic under consideration, but must not have
published on or have a publicly stated opinion on the topic.
- Represent a variety of perspectives, to include:
- Practicing and academic health professionals
- Biostatisticians and epidemiologists
- Clinical trialists and researchers
- Non-health professionals with expertise in fields relevant to the specific
(e.g., ethicists, economists, attorneys)
- Individuals representing public-centered values and concerns.
In addition, the panel as a whole should appropriately reflect racial and ethnic
diversity. Panel members are not paid a fee or honorarium for their efforts; however,
they are reimbursed for travel expenses related to their participation in the conference.
Conferences typically feature approximately 21 speakers: 3 present the information
found in the Evidence-based Practice Center’s systematic review of the literature;
the other 18 are experts in the topic at hand, have likely published on the issue,
and may have strong opinions or beliefs on the topic. Where multiple viewpoints
on a topic exist, every effort is made to include speakers who address all sides
of the issue.
The panel’s draft report is released online late in the conference’s third and final
day. The final report is released approximately 6 weeks later. During the intervening
period, the panel may edit its statement for clarity and correct any factual errors
that might be discovered. No substantive changes to the panel’s findings are made
during this period.
Each Consensus Development Conference Statement reflects an independent panel’s
assessment of the medical knowledge available at the time the statement is written;
as such, it provides a “snapshot in time” of the state of knowledge on the conference
topic. It is not a policy statement of the NIH or the Federal Government.
Consensus Development Conference Statements have robust dissemination:
- A press briefing is held on the last day of the conference to assist journalists
in preparing news stories on the conference findings.
- The statement is published online at consensus.nih.gov.
- The statement is published in a major peer-reviewed journal.
- Print copies are mailed to a wide variety of targeted audiences and are available
at no charge through a clearinghouse.
For conference schedules, past statements, and evidence reports, please contact
NIH Consensus Development Program Information Center
P.O. Box 2577
Kensington, MD 20891