The National Guideline Clearinghouse website — the online tool that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said provided information on clinical practice guidelines — went dark earlier this month.
Clinicians expressed dismay at the news, saying shutting down the website takes away an objective, one-stop shop for clinical guidelines.
“The great thing about the National Guideline Clearinghouse was that it was being funded by the federal government, so you knew it was representing the interests of the public, whereas a lot of the other resources out there might be funded by money from pharmaceutical companies, device companies or other entities that may not necessarily have a completely unbiased approach to how we think about health care,” Healio Family Medicine editorial board member and general internist at Virginia Commonwealth University Alan Dow, MD, MSHA, said in an interview.
“If we can’t find that online from places that are free from bias, then we may end up making biased decisions without even knowing it,” he continued.
The website was also valued by clinicians for its layout and design which facilitated quick reference. “The National Guideline Clearinghouse was very focused, very specific, very easy to use in its purpose. Its’ trustworthiness, easy-to-use style and design will be missed by health care professionals and patients, since there are not an unlimited number of websites that serve this purpose,” Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified family physician and associate professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, said in an interview.
“As family physicians, we want to make sure we use evidence-based medicine and recommendations that have been tried as much as possible to keep patients safe. This website did this, and served as a cornerstone for what we do,” she added.
Alison Hunt, MHS an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality spokesperson said in an interview the “difficult decision to shutter the [National Guideline Clearinghouse] was made by AHRQ’s leadership in response to our current budget, and the expiration of funding that supported [the National Guideline Clearinghouse].”
Dow found blaming finances for the shutdown to be incredulous.
“The website is a million-dollar cost in the face of trillions of dollars of tax cuts. We’re talking pennies to run a website, while there’s millions we’re not collecting in tax revenues.”
Hunt declined to comment on Dow’s remark, citing the speculative nature of future HHS budgets, but added the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is “exploring options” that could bring the National Guideline Clearinghouse website back online.
In the meantime, she suggested clinicians consult peer-reviewed publications and other sources such as the agency’s app (EPSS) for “information about guidelines’ trustworthiness [and] ... help primary care clinicians identify clinical preventive services that are appropriate for their patients.” – by Janel Miller
Disclosures: Dow reports no relevant financial disclosures. Healio Family Medicine was unable to determine Caudle’s relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.