An announcement posted on the National Guideline Clearinghouse (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.” It is reported that about 200,000 health professionals access these trustworthy guidelines each month to support patient care.
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. 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.
As the situation continues to develop, it appears that the complete repository of NGC’s guidelines summaries is freely available on Guideline Central. Also, ECRI Institute, the independent nonprofit organization that the United States federal government relied on to develop and maintain the NGC since its inception 20 years ago, has announced plans to continue providing a centralized source for trustworthy, evidence-based information on clinical practice guidelines. An interim website will launch this fall, and plans are underway to create value added features that will be available in the future.