The Delphi method is a tool used to collect judgments from a group of experts and use them to obtain the most reliable consensus of opinion. It is a good way to assess opinions in a structured way and reach a level of consensus from a group of experts without necessarily bringing them together face-to-face.
Among other disciplines, the Delphi method can be used in healthcare to collect expert-based judgments and to use them in medical practice. Let’s look at the Delphi method and its history, how it works, and its various applications.
How does the Delphi consensus work?
The Delphi method assumes that group judgments are more valid than individual judgments. It relies on individuals, despite likely individual differences in opinion, to reach an agreement on unsettled critical issues. It then combines these expert opinions anonymously through several iterative rounds to develop recommendations, such as standardised best practices in medicine and healthcare.
History of the Delphi consensus
The Delphi method was developed in the 1950s by the RAND Corporation to forecast the impact of technology on warfare. It was named for the location of the Greek Temple, Delphi, and its prophetess, the Oracle of Delphi. In Greek mythology, Delphi guided those who came for help with their problems through a prophecy or riddle.
While the authors of the Delphi method later expressed some unhappiness with the connotation, the name seems to fit the method rather well. The Delphi consensus method is, after all, used to forecast trends and changes that can occur over years, even decades or more.
Where is the Delphi method applied?
Applications include assessing the comparative importance of different problems, or the relative usefulness of different interventions for the same problem. Concepts from the Delphi method have been used in fields including facilitation of communication between experts and stakeholders, environmental design and assessment of natural resources, artificial intelligence and expert systems, risk management, software development and education. Due to its ability to aid tackling difficult issues where there are no obvious solutions, there have been plenty of use cases of the Delphi method in healthcare.
The applications of the Delphi method in healthcare
In medicine and healthcare, decision-making is particularly challenging. More than in any other discipline, decisions can affect the lives and the wellbeing of thousands of people. The Delphi method can be used in healthcare to provide evidence when clinical study types like meta-analyses, intervention studies and correlation studies are not an option. It has been used for many purposes, including achieving a consensus around standards, developing evidence-based practises, and forecasting future developments.
Some examples where Delphi has proven useful include studying the level of skill needed to safely perform a procedure, determining appropriate treatments for a disease, and developing clinical practice guidelines.
Reaching consensus on multiple perspectives
The Delphi consensus method has been used in healthcare for decades. It is ideal for situations where the subject matter is complex and there are multiple perspectives on the issue. The Delphi method has been proven to be an effective tool for developing expert consensus on unsettled or critical issues. Applying it more widely in healthcare could lead to a better understanding of where consensus lies and what needs to change to develop better healthcare solutions for all.