Without fanfare last month, the federal Agency for Health Care Policy and Research posted on the Internet its long-awaited medical guidelines clearinghouse.
The National Guidelines Clearinghouse (www.guideline.gov) is intended to make evidence-based clinical practice guidelines widely available to healthcare professionals. A joint effort of the AHCPR, the American Association of Health Plans and the American Medical Association, the World Wide Web site allows viewers to compare the full gamut of guidelines available. Until now, nothing like the clearinghouse existed on the Web or anywhere else.
The guidelines posted on the AHCPR's site were written and submitted by a variety of organizations, not just the AHCPR. They come from medical specialty societies, health plans, professional societies and government agencies. Guidelines must meet the National Institute of Medicine's definition of a clinical practice guideline, must be evidence-based and must be current.
The AHCPR issued a call for guidelines last April. More than 50 organizations responded. Several hundred guidelines are already on the site, and about 100 are expected to be added by January, an AHCPR source said.
The clearinghouse provides the same amount of information on all guidelines but doesn't rank them or recommend one guideline over another.
Guidelines have been published in different versions for years, but they have been developed for different purposes by different groups. Until now it has been impossible to compare them side by side and figure out which ones apply to the case at hand.
Pediatricians, for example, might want information on asthma in children. The clearinghouse might include five asthma guidelines. One might be for hospitalized patients, another for the elderly. By process of elimination, physicians can find the one guideline that addresses pediatric asthma.
The AHCPR has allocated $6 million to fund the clearinghouse over the next five years.