Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI)
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
NIH Consensus Development Conference


What is the NIH Consensus Development Program?

Since 1977, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Program has organized major conferences that produce evidence-based consensus statements addressing controversial issues in medicine important to healthcare providers, patients, policymakers, and the general public. Prior to 2012, the Consensus Development Program was administered by the NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR). OMAR was recently folded into the NIH Office of Disease Prevention (ODP), which provides the leadership, infrastructure, funding, and coordination necessary to conduct Consensus Development Conferences.

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 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 a jury—they have no 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 includes a systematic literature review prepared by one of a network of Evidence-based Practice Centers through a contract with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). In addition, recognized experts on the topic give presentations to the panel and audience. Finally, formal periods of public discussion are held. The panel takes this all into consideration and renders its recommendations in their statement.

What is an NIH Consensus Statement?

An NIH Consensus Statement is a report evaluating 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 five to six questions concerning efficacy, risk, clinical applications, and recommendations for future research.

Who writes an NIH Consensus Statement?

NIH Consensus Statements are written by broad-based, multidisciplinary, independent panels of non-advocate individuals knowledgeable in the field of medical or public health science under consideration. The makeup of each panel typically includes research investigators, healthcare providers, methodologists, and a public representative.

Following 1½ days of scientific presentations and public testimony, the panel convenes in an executive session to write the draft statement. On the third and final day of the conference, the statement is circulated to the conference audience for a dedicated discussion period. The panel then releases a revised statement at the end of the conference. The statement is an independent report of the panel and is not a policy statement of NIH or the Federal Government.

What is a Consensus Development Conference?

A Consensus Development Conference is typically 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.

How frequently does NIH hold Consensus Development Conferences?

Consensus Development Conferences are generally held annually and focus on clinical issues of the highest impact and public health importance.

How often are the NIH Consensus Statements reviewed?

The statements are not reviewed once they are released in their final form. It is important to recognize that each NIH Consensus Statement reflects an independent panel’s assessment of the medical knowledge available at the time the statement was written; as such, it provides “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 5 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 online 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 Management of Hepatitis C: 2002 and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC): New Insights, held in 2010.

How are NIH Consensus Development Conference topics selected?

Topic proposals for Consensus Development Conferences are solicited each spring, submitted online, and reviewed by the NIH Prevention Research Coordinating Committee. Topics for NIH Consensus Development Conferences address a wide range of subjects and may be suggested by an Institute, Center, or Office within NIH or other groups, such as government agencies, professional societies, and advocacy organizations. The following major criteria must be met for a topic to qualify for the Consensus Development Program:

  1. Have clinical and broad public health importance—the severity of the problem and the feasibility of interventions are key considerations.
  2. Be controversial or unresolved and amenable to clarification, or reflect a gap between current knowledge and practice that can be narrowed.
  3. Have an adequately defined base of scientific information from which to answer conference questions.
  4. Be of cross-cutting concern to a variety of stakeholders.

Can I suggest a topic?

When the ODP receives a topic suggestion from outside the NIH, ODP staff contact other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices to identify possible conference cosponsors. Prior to topic approval, an NIH Institute, Center, or Office must be willing to cosponsor the event and commit the necessary time to engage in pre-conference planning and post-conference dissemination activities. Visit our online topic submission page External Website Policy for more information.

How do NIH Consensus Statements differ from clinical practice guidelines?

NIH Consensus Statements synthesize the available evidence, largely from recent or ongoing medical research, that has implications for reevaluation of routine medical practices. They do not give specific, detailed practice algorithms.

How can I get NIH Consensus Statements and other related information?

NIH Consensus Statements and related program materials are available by writing to:

NIH Consensus Development Program Information Center
P.O. Box 2577
Kensington, MD 20891

or by calling toll free:

888–NIH–CONSENSUS (888–644–2667).

How much does it cost to register?

NIH Consensus Development Conferences are free and open to the public. You can preregister for an upcoming conference. If you are unable to attend in person, the conference is webcast live. You may also access a previous conference in our archive.

Can my organization sponsor or financially contribute to the conference?

Although the ODP appreciates the offer, in order to keep the conferences independent, we cannot accept contributions or sponsorship from non-government entities.

How can the program be independent when it is being run by the NIH?

ODP conducts the program; however, it has no granting or contracting authority with respect to the topics. It is the ODP’s job to maintain the integrity of the process. Cosponsoring Institutes, Centers, and Offices are kept separated from the panel throughout the process to avoid any potential influence.

Can I get a DVD of the proceedings?

We do not prepare DVDs of the conference; however, the conference webcast is available in our archive.

Is there a period of public comment after the conference?

No, public comment is closed on the last day of the conference once the panel convenes in its final executive session.

Can I distribute materials at the conference?

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

Is the content on the consensus.nih.gov website copyrighted or free to use?

Most of the information on our website is in the public domain and can be used without charge or restriction. There are a few exceptions. Copyrighted materials will include a copyright statement. Another item restricted in its use is the NIH logo. Our logo should not be used to suggest we endorse any private organization, product, or service.

Where can I get the systematic literature review prepared for each conference?

The systematic review, which is produced in support of every conference by one of a network of Evidence-based Practice Centers through a contract with AHRQ, is posted at the AHRQ website on the last day of the conference.