AHRQ extends deadline for quality-measurement comments

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has extended until Sept. 21 the deadline for its request for information on how to harness health IT to better measure the quality of healthcare.

The RFI, originally published in the Federal Register on July 20, solicits suggestions from health IT system developers, insurers, quality-measure developers, health IT users, clinicians and consumers as quality measurement transitions from examining paper charts to capture and analysis of digital data.

Calling health IT-enabled quality measurement an emerging field, the AHRQ seeks help sorting through "competing choices and challenges," including the scope of the measure set, and IT infrastructure and technology challenges such as how to capture unstructured data from electronic health records. The responses will be used in a report to be released next summer.

Among the organizations already responding to the RFI is the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). In a letter dated Aug. 23, CHIME suggests the agency focus on defining clear "next steps" for providers using health IT in quality measurement, and get other U.S. Department of Health & Human Services agencies on the same page to standardize reporting measures.

CHIME also raises concern that 100 percent automation of quality measurements is too ambitious given current technology, urging the agency to focus instead on incremental goals.

In a letter dated Aug. 20, the Rockville, Md.-based nonprofit National Committee for Quality Assurance, which owns a healthcare quality measurement tool known as the Healthcare Effectiveness Data Information Set (HEDIS), suggested that quality measurements be practice-specific, since different kinds of medical specialties deal in different kinds of medical data.

The committee also recommended updating the National Quality Forum's Measure Authoring Tool (MAT) and the underlying Quality Data Model (QDM) to better leverage data from EHRs. Additionally, both providers and consumers need to understand the importance of quality measurement, the committee said. Providers, in particular, need to see "how measurement is a useful tool that can help them improve the way they practice, and not a burden," the group said.

The American Academy of Family Physicians also submitted comments. In an Aug. 20 letter, the academy argued that the "quality measure 'pool' has been tainted by evidence-poor structure and process measure." It urged that health IT vendors be pushed to develop new "clinically informed, improvement-focused, evidence-based, data-derived, outcomes-oriented measures … that are not 10 years behind current technological capabilities."

 To learn more:
- check out the AHRQ announcement
- read the CHIME letter
- see the NCQA letter (open link under Comment Letters)
- here's the AAFP letter

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