To encourage development, diffusion, and adoption of innovations in healthcare, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently launched a new online “best medical practices” information exchange. The Healthcare Innovations Exchange is a searchable database of treatment innovations that improve patient outcomes.

AHRQ is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is charged with research and development of best medical practices. The goal of this free service, which currently contains more than 200 innovations, is dissemination of information about best practices among healthcare facilities.

Users can search the database for innovative practices by one or more subject fields. These fields include disease or clinical area, patient population, stage of care, patient care process, care setting, and domain of quality. Each “best practices” case study often represents a remarkable innovation. One example is an infection surveillance system that completely eliminates vancomycin-resistant enterococcus infection in an ICU for transplant patients. Another is a system that reduces the incidence of bed sores by 5% in high-risk nursing home patients.

Too often, innovations within one healthcare facility remain unknown to the wider healthcare community. A primary goal of this AHRQ Website is to overcome that “silo” effect and make the knowledge available to a wider community. To accomplish this objective, the Innovations Exchange program provides practitioners a standardized format for submitting ideas. The format includes an outline of the medical issue addressed, a description of the innovation, journal references that support the concept, and results attained when the practice was tested. The listing also provides information on how the innovation was implemented, resources required to adopt it, and contact information for innovators and other adopters.

The Web site links to other online tools for quality improvement, such as Joint Commissions’ Laboratory Services National Patient Safety Goals and American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s Lab Tests Online.

Not surprisingly, the Innovations Exchange Web site has not been flooded by visitors, since many healthcare providers are reluctant to change, let alone be innovative. One year into this service, few innovations listed have generated similar projects. For example, a system for reducing “door-to-balloon time” for heart attack to as little as 82 minutes-well below the national 90-minute average-was posted in May, but its creators have not received a single call.

AHRQ’s Innovations Exchange Web site is one more small step in nudging healthcare providers toward a mindset of continuous improvement. As policymakers and payers turn up the heat on hospitals and physicians to deliver improved outcomes in return for pay-for-performance incentives, providers can be expected to pay more attention to fostering innovation within their organization.-P. Kirk

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