If you or anyone at your hospital use the National Guidelines Clearinghouse or National Quality Measures Clearinghouse operated under the auspices of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), download the information you need soon.
Both online clearinghouses will go dark after July 16 as federal funding runs out. Neither site is accepting new guidelines or quality measure sets in anticipation of shutting the databases down.
Announcements on each website note that that AHRQ has received “expressions of interest from stakeholders” that want to takeover maintenance of the databases, but AHRQ officials have declined to identify who those stakeholders are for now.
The clearinghouses were set up more than two decades ago as central sites to help hospitals, clinicians and others in health care find evidence-based information on which to set policy, create clinical treatment plans and objectively measure quality outcomes.
The guidelines and measures are submitted by various professional or academic health organization and must meet detailed criteria to be included in each database. As guidelines or measures are updated or become outdated, the information is removed.
AHRQ evaluating options
“AHRQ recognizes the importance of this resource and is evaluating potential options, including the participation of stakeholders who may wish to operate the Clearinghouse in the future,” stated Alison Hunt, MPH, with AHRQ’s Office of Communications, Media Division.
If public or private stakeholders are found to take over the clearinghouses, ARHQ still has not decided what role it will continue to play, Hunt said.
While the federal sites may go away, the information will still be available from each of the professional society, academy or other healthcare group that originated the material, notes Karen Schoelles MD, SM, FACP, director of ECRI Institute’s Penn Medicine Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) and project director for both clearinghouses.
ECRI was the original contractor hired by AHRQ to set up and run the guidelines clearinghouse in 1987.
Besides having information in one place, one of the advantages in having each of the clearinghouses is that users could have some assurance that the information had been professionally vetted and was up-to-date.
Having evidence-based information to back a policy or best practice is one of the key mantras of both The Joint Commission and CMS.
Hospital leaders or others who need information about the validity of a particular set of guidelines or best practice can still seek out help from any of the Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPC) set up through AHRQ, says Schoelles. ECRI-Penn Medicine is one of 12 EPCs across North America.
EPC programs offer help
The EPCs develop evidence reports and technology assessments to assist public- and private-sector organizations, and “provide organizations with comprehensive, science-based information on common, costly medical conditions and new health care technologies and strategies,” according to a AHRQ research white paper released in December. Schoelles was a work group leader on the paper, A Framework for Conceptualizing Evidence Needs of Health Systems.
The paper sets out to determine the evidence needs of health systems to both guide future EPC programs and ultimately help organizations as they seek “evidence to inform decisions about acquiring new or emerging medical technologies; implementation or expansion of service offerings; and selection of governance, finance or delivery system models,” notes a summary.
As part of the group’s research it looked at information requests made at four large health institutions; Kaiser Permanente Southern California, the Veterans Health Administration’s Evidence Synthesis Program, ECRI Institute’s Health Technology Assessment Information Service, and Penn Medicine Center for Evidence-based Practice.
“A wide range of clinical and administrative decision-makers requested evidence reviews, and the topics were similarly broad—ranging from evidence to guide clinical care; purchasing of medications and devices; procedural and non-procedural interventions; and processes of care,” according to the paper.
Highlighted throughout the requests was a need for trustworthiness of information, notes Schoelles.
If you are seeking to verify or evaluate information and are part of a larger health system, Schoelles suggests starting with the larger organization to see what help it can offer. Often health systems will evaluate a guidelines or best practice and then establish a policy or guidelines based on that information, or can share the evaluation throughout the system’s smaller organizations, she said.
ECRI, for instance, offers a variety of evaluation services. Some ECRI services are free to members, others are fee-based. ECRI Institute also is currently exploring ways to maintain a guideline repository, notes Schoelles.
- AHRQ’s National Guidelines Center (until July 16): https://www.guideline.gov/ 
- AHRQ’s National Quality Measures Center (until July 16): https://www.qualitymeasures.ahrq.gov/ 
- List of AHRQ’s Evidence-based Practice Centers: https://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/evidence-based-reports/centers/index.html#ecri 
This article was originally published in Inside The Joint Commission.