ECRI Institute Rescues National Guideline Clearinghouse from Budgetary Elimination

Following a statement that as of July 16 the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) would no longer host the National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC), nonprofit organization ECRI Institute announced last week that it will step in and host the NGC starting this fall.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees AHRQ, said it was shutting down the NGC for budgetary reasons. However, this decision raised an outcry from many researchers and professional groups; their vocal calls to reinstate the clearinghouse prompted ECRI to take action in reviving it. The NGC was first developed with the input of ECRI and other groups 20 years ago, according to an ECRI statement. Electronic health record (EHR) vendors use it to help develop clinical decision support information, and insurers use it to set up clinical quality measures, according to AHIMA subject matter experts.

The New York Times editorial board even weighed in, publishing an op-ed about the potential clinical impact of eliminating the NGC entirely.

“The sheer volume of medical information now within a few clicks’ reach can make it difficult, even for doctors, to separate wheat from chaff. Clinical guidelines based on careful consideration and solid impartial research can be difficult to tell apart from those based on weak data, or rooted in a clear conflict of interest (usually a financial stake in whatever treatment they are promoting),” the board wrote. “The clearinghouse, which not only vets countless sources of medical information but also makes its results easily searchable, is regarded as the most dependable repository of its kind in the world.”

Lauren Riplinger, JD, senior director of federal relations for AHIMA, said that the elimination of the NGC is the result of a cut in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, so it’s been known for some time that the decision to take it offline was coming. AHIMA is a member of Friends of AHRQ, a voluntary coalition of 250 organizations dedicated to protecting the agency’s funding. Currently, AHRQ is still fully funded. According to Riplinger, when the appropriators marked up the FY 2019 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill a few weeks ago they funded AHRQ at $334M—essentially level funding compared to last year.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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