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Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the NIH Consensus Development Program?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Program organizes major conferences that produce evidence-based consensus statements addressing controversial issues in medicine important to health care providers, patients, and the general public. NIH consensus statements are disseminated widely to practitioners, health care policymakers, patients, the general public, and the media. The NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research has administered the program since its inception in 1977.

How is this different from other conferences or meetings?

Most other scientific and medical conferences rely on content experts to make recommendations, however, this raises the possibility of potential conflicts of interest given the expert's financial and career ties to the topic. 
In contrast, the Consensus Development Program conferences are an independent look at the issues from an  unbiased panel. In fact, the conferences are run on a "court model".
The panel members are like judges - they have no conflicts of interest, financial or career interests related to the topic. They are highly regarded in their own fields but are not closely aligned with the subject. 
There is an in depth presentation of evidence to the panel. This evidence includes the Systematic Literature Review prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a complete review and synthesis of published information.  In addition,  recognized experts on the topic give presentations to the panel and audience.
Finally, periods of testimonial input from the general public are invited. The panel takes this all into consideration in a "sequestered" period and renders its recommendations in their statement. 

What Is an NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statement?

An NIH consensus statement is a report evaluating state-of-the-science scientific information on a given biomedical or public health intervention with the purpose of resolving a particular controversial issue in clinical practice. Each NIH consensus statement answers a series of four to six questions concerning efficacy, risk, and clinical applications and recommends directions for future research. An NIH consensus statement is the product of an NIH Consensus Development Conference.

Who writes an NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statement?

NIH consensus statements are written by broad-based, independent panels of nonadvocate individuals knowledgeable in the field of medical or public health science under consideration. The makeup of each panel represents various sectors of professional and community life and typically includes research investigators, health care providers, methodologists, and a public representative.

Following 1½ days of scientific presentations and public testimony during the Consensus Development Conference sessions, the panel convenes in an executive session to write the draft consensus statement. On the third and final day of the conference, the statement is circulated to the conference audience for comment. The panel resolves any conflicting recommendations and releases a revised statement at the end of the conference. A consensus statement is not a policy statement of NIH or the Federal Government.

What is the difference between a Consensus Conference and a State-of-the-Science Conference?

Consensus conferences are undertaken where there is a strong body of higher quality evidence (randomized trials, well designed observational studies) and it is reasonable to expect that the panel will be able to give clinical direction. 
State-of-the-Science conferences are used in cases where the evidence base is weaker and the sponsoring NIH Institute or Center (IC) is seeking the panel's opinion on future research and priorities.

How frequently does NIH issue Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statements?

NIH issues an average of three to five Consensus or State-of-the-Science statements each year.

How often are the Consensus and State-of-the-Science Statements reviewed?

The statements are not reviewed once they are released in their final form. It is important to recognize that each Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statement reflects an independent panel's assessment of the medical knowledge available at the time the statement was written and as such, it provides a "snapshot in time" of the state of knowledge on the conference topic. In the period following a statement's release, new knowledge is inevitably accumulating through medical research. For this reason, statements more than five years old are deemed "historical," as information contained in them is likely to be out of date. Historical statements may continue to be useful to the research community as a reference for understanding what was known about a topic at a particular point in time, including whether gaps in research identified at the time of each conference have since been filled. It is for this purpose that historical conference statements will remain available on-line indefinitely, but will no longer be distributed in booklet form by the Consensus Program Information Center.

On rare occasions, a conference topic is revisited, when it is determined that newly available data warrant a second conference and statement on the same or similar subject matter. Examples of this occurring in recent years include Antenatal Corticosteroids Revisited: Repeat Courses, held in 2000, and Management of Hepatitis C: 2002.

How are NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science conference topics selected?

Topics for NIH Consensus Development Conferences address a wide range of subjects and may be suggested by an Institute or Center within NIH, by other Government agencies, by Congress, or by the public. For an issue to qualify as a Consensus Development Conference topic, three main criteria must be met:

(1) Public health importance (2) Controversy or a gap between current knowledge and practice (3) An adequately defined and available base of scientific information Once a topic is chosen, the date for the conference usually is set 12 to 14 months away. The scheduling of the conference date can be influenced by a variety of factors, however, that ultimately determine when the chosen topic will be addressed.

Can I suggest a topic?

When the Office of Medical Applications of Research receives a topic suggestion from outside the Institute we contact an appropriate Institute or Center within NIH to speak with the person making the suggestion for further consideration. Ultimately it is the decision of the Institute or Center in discussion with their leadership whether to pursue or not pursue a topic. 

How do NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statements differ from clinical practice guidelines?

NIH consensus statements synthesize new information, largely from recent or ongoing medical research, that has implications for reevaluation of routine medical practices. They do not give specific algorithms or guidelines for practice. Such policy decisions often depend on cost, available expertise and technology, and local practice circumstances.

How can I get NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science Statements and other related information?

NIH Consensus or State-of-the-Science statements and related program materials are available by writing to the NIH Consensus Development Program Information Center, P.O. Box 2577, Kensington, Maryland 20891; by calling toll free 1 888 NIH-CONSENSUS (1-888-644-2667); or by visiting the NIH Consensus Development Program Web site at http://consensus.nih.gov.

How much does it cost to register?

Our conferences are free and open to the public, space permitting. You can preregister for a conference online at http://consensus.nih.gov.  If unable to attend in person, the conference is webcast live and can be accessed on the days of the conference at http://consensus.nih.gov

Can my organization sponsor or financially contribute to the conference?

Although we appreciate the offer, in order to keep the conferences independent we do not accept contributions in support of the conference. 

How can it be independent when it is being run by NIH? Can't NIH be biased?

The Office of Medical Applications of Research at NIH conducts the program , however OMAR has no content expertise, granting or contracting authority with respect to the topics. It is OMAR's job to maintain the integrity of the process. To avoid the potential influence of the sponsoring IC on the process the IC is kept separated from the panel during the process thus maintaining the panel independence.  

Can I get a DVD of the proceedings?

We do not prepare DVDs of the conference, however the conference is webcast live and the webcast is archived on our site at http://consensus.nih.gov for later viewing. 

Is there a period of public comment after the conference?

No, public comment is closed on the final day of the conference when the panel retires to its final executive session. If you have a statement or materials you would like sent to the panel before the conference please contact our office and will do our best to get your material to the panel. 

Can I distribute materials at the conference?

We have a table available for participants who want to share materials with other audience members. The materials are kept separate from NIH and federal materials as it is necessary for NIH, as a federal agency, to not appear to endorse any particular product or viewpoint. 

Is the content on the NIH Website copyrighted or free to use? 

Most of the information on our site is in the public domain and can be used without charge or restriction. There are a few exceptions. For example, some resources, such as the interactive health tutorials found on NIH's National Library of Medicine Website are restricted in their use. Copyrighted materials will include a copyright statement. Another item restricted in its use is the NIH logo. Our logo should not be used to misrepresent our agency nor should it be used to suggest we endorse any private organization, product, or service. Also, some materials that can be ordered from our site are subject to cost-recovery fee; however, in most cases, a single copy of any NIH publication can be ordered for free. While you can reuse content found on our site, please note that many of our on-line health publications are updated as we learn more about that specific disease or condition. Occasionally, we see sites that copy and re-post our materials but fail to check for updates, which results in out-of-date information being offered to users. For that reason, we urge you to link to our resource documents rather than re-posting. If you do re-post, please check back periodically to see if there are revisions. 

Will the NIH link to my Website? 

As a Federal agency, NIH cannot endorse or promote commercial or individual interests or services. In some cases, where the information serves the public good and is consistent with our mission, we may include an outside link to an external resource; however these need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. In general, the web developer of each particular site determines when links to outside entities are justified.

Where can I get the Systematic Literature Review prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality?

The  AHRQ Systematic Literature Review is posted on the last day of the conference as is the panels statement.


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