'JNC 8' Guideline Follows Convoluted Endgame

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The federally funded program to produce a set of U.S. guidelines for hypertension management, a process more than 5 years in the making, came to an unusual end on December 18 when the members of what had already become the officially-disbanded JNC 8 panel published their conclusions and guideline.

No longer recognized or supported by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the Federal agency that had organized the Eighth Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 8) panel in 2008, and unwilling to work with potential collaborating groups like the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), or the American Society of Hypertension (ASH), the 17-person group that wound up identifying themselves as the “panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8).”

Call them JNC Ain’t.

Dr. Paul A. James

The U.S. hypertension guidelines began veering off on an unexpected course last June, when Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, NHLBI director, announced that the agency was withdrawing from issuing guidelines itself and would instead collaborate with “partner organizations.”

In August, Dr. Gibbons, said that the AHA and ACC had reached an agreement with the agency to “spearhead” development of three sets of practice guidelines, for hypertension, cholesterol, and obesity. This agreement led to the release in November of the cholesterol and obesity guidelines under the auspices of the AHA and ACC, but instead of also releasing hypertension guidelines, the AHA and ACC as well as the NHLBI said that the process had fallen through and failed to produce guidelines.

According to Dr. Paul A. James, co-chair of the former JNC 8 panel and professor of family medicine at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, that’s because the panel members decided they weren’t comfortable with “the idea of shopping our guideline around prior to publication and getting an endorsement.” Now that the panel’s conclusions have been published “we hope to get active public review of our work; we invite people to analyze our process, and hopefully organizations will endorse our findings,” he said in an interview. “Our belief is that the approach we took, the transparent nature of our guideline development, and our release of it through JAMA will increase the credibility of our work.”

But others said that the panel’s break with the NHLBI and its inability to partner with any organization will inevitably affect how people view these recommendations, especially because parts are also clinically controversial.

“There was clear controversy when this guideline was circulated” while under review, said Dr. John M. Flack, professor and chief of medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The biggest problem this committee has is that many experts with a very significant stake in the recommendations were excluded from the process of generating the guideline. That limits buy-in from key opinion leaders, which will be needed for the uptake of this guideline into clinical practice,” he said in an interview.

“Unlike the previous JNC reports, this one will be seen as interesting, but not as persuasive,” said Dr. Michael A. Weber, professor of medicine at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. “I believe the AHA, ACC, and ASH had hoped to endorse these guidelines, but that wasn’t possible.”

Dr. Michael A. Weber

ASH leaders had discussions with the JNC 8 panel last summer, but the two groups could not reach an agreement on how to use the panel’s work for management recommendations, said Dr. William B. White, ASH president and chief of hypertension and clinical pharmacology at the University of Connecticut in Farmington.

What ASH has since agreed to do is join with the AHA and ACC to produce evidence-based hypertension guidelines using NHLBI materials, Dr. White said in an interview. The planned guidelines will “use some of the evidence derived by the NHLBI’s methodology, but adding to it other clinical issues,” including blood pressure measurement. These groups also hope the guidelines development will receive participation from a primary-care society such as the American College of Physicians, he said.

“The ACC/AHA Task Force on Practice Guidelines has begun the process of developing the collaborative model to update the national hypertensive guidelines in partnership with the NHLBI, which will provide an updated systematic review informed by the relevant critical clinical questions. We are seeking appropriate partners to begin this work in early 2014. The writing group will draft recommendations, followed by a peer and stakeholder review process. Once the review process is complete the ACC/AHA and partnering organizations will publish the guidelines in 2015 for clinicians to follow as the national standard for hypertension prevention and treatment,” said a spokeswoman for the American College of Cardiology in a statement released on December 18.


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