June 27, 2018 10:44 am News Staff – In less than a month, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) website will cease operations.
An announcement posted on the NGC website states that "because federal funding through AHRQ will no longer be available to support the NGC," the site will shut down after July 16.
A similar AHRQ online database, the National Quality Measures Clearinghouse, also will close up shop after July 16.
The NGC debuted in 1998 as a repository of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and related documents. Created through a partnership of AHRQ, the AMA and the American Association of Health Plans (which later merged with the Health Insurance Association of America to become America's Health Insurance Plans), the NGC's mission was "to provide physicians and other health care professionals, health care providers, health plans, integrated delivery systems, purchasers and others an accessible mechanism for obtaining objective, detailed information on clinical practice guidelines and to further their dissemination, implementation and use."
In addition to being the go-to place for users to find comprehensive clinical guidelines that meet the clearinghouse's stringent inclusion criteria free of charge, the NGC also provides structured summaries of many of the guidelines, providing a valuable service to primary care physicians and other health care professionals seeking quick, easily digestible information. At last check, the site offered about 1,400 guideline summaries that can be browsed by clinical specialty, MeSH tag or contributing organization.
As recently as last November, AHRQ was making improvements to the clearinghouse. On Nov. 16, 2017, it launched the National Guideline Clearinghouse Extent Adherence to Trustworthy Standards (NEATS) Instrument, designed to assess the degree to which a guideline adheres to the Institute of Medicine's standards for trustworthiness. Through the tool, users could quickly determine the processes used to develop guidelines, and choose those they considered the most rigorously developed.
The clearinghouse will continue to post summaries of new and updated clinical guidelines even as the shutdown date approaches; new summaries will be posted through July 2.
At present, it is unclear whether another organization will take over the NGC's operations. The clearinghouse's announcement noted that "AHRQ is receiving expressions of interest from stakeholders interested in carrying on the NGC's work. It is not clear at this time, however, when or if NGC (or something like NGC) will be online again."
It also is unclear what, if any, role AHRQ would play if another stakeholder chose to continue operating the NGC.
One potential candidate is the ECRI Institute (formerly the Emergency Care Research Institute), a nonprofit organization that has contracted with the federal government to run NGC since its inception. In that capacity, the ECRI Institute has reviewed and summarized more than 10,000 clinical practice guidelines.
Karen Schoelles, M.D., director of the ECRI Institute-Penn Medicine Evidence-Based Practice Center, told Congressional Quarterly Roll Call that the institute's longstanding relationship with AHRQ puts them "in a unique position to utilize our 20 years of expertise in assessing and summarizing guidelines for the research and medical communities."
Schoelles added that ECRI is exploring ways to maintain a guideline repository, but is seeking input from people who use the NGC and other resources before considering next steps.
AHRQ's future also remains uncertain. The fiscal year 2019 budget proposed by President Donald Trump would consolidate AHRQ into the NIH as a new agency titled the National Institute for Research and Quality.
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