Clinical Decision Support (CDS)

Overview | PCOR CDS Initiative | PC-CDS Leaning Network | CDS Connect Project | CDS Demonstrations | CDS eRecommendations | CDS White Papers | CDS Guide | CDS Podcast Series | CDS Town Hall Meeting


Clinical decision support (CDS) has the ability to significantly impact improvements in quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has long supported efforts to develop, adopt, implement, and evaluate the use of CDS to improve health care decisionmaking.

To date, AHRQ has funded several research projects involving CDS, including the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Initiative, two demonstrations supported by a panel of technical experts, the development of white papers, and outreach efforts to develop consensus in the health care field around the use of CDS to promote safe and effective health care. These research efforts work to engage relevant stakeholders, including patients, clinicians, provider organizations, guideline and quality measurement developers, and information technology professionals, in the ongoing work to improve health care decisionmaking using CDS systems.

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Initiative

AHRQ launched an initiative in 2016 to disseminate and implement patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) findings through clinical decision support (CDS). This initiative has two main goals:

  • To advance the movement of evidence into practice through CDS; and 
  • To make CDS more shareable, standards-based, and publicly-available. 

To help reach these goals, the initiative has four components:

  1. Engaging stakeholders such as patients, researchers, health IT vendors, payers, provider organizations, and many more 
  2. Building prototype infrastructure for developing and sharing CDS 
  3. Advancing research on how CDS can help disseminate and implement evidence in clinical practice 
  4. Evaluating the overall initiative 

For the first component, AHRQ awarded a cooperative agreement to Research Triangle Institute (Principal Investigator Barry Blumenfeld). Over the course of this grant, which ended in 2020, the project team built a community called the Patient-Centered CDS (PCCDS) Learning Network, which brought together multiple public and private stakeholders to advance the concept of patient-centered CDS. Engaging stakeholders, including patients, continues to be an important aspect of other ongoing components of AHRQ’s CDS initiative.

For the second component, AHRQ awarded a contract to the MITRE Corporation (Project Director Lacy Fabian). This project team built CDS Connect, an online platform for sharing interoperable CDS that includes a repository of publicly-available CDS artifacts, open source tools such as a CDS Authoring Tool, and a public work group.

For the third component, AHRQ has released grant funding opportunities to better understand how CDS can be used to advance evidence into practice. Information about current AHRQ funding opportunities can be found at In addition, AHRQ awarded two demonstration contracts focused on CDS for chronic pain management, one to MedStar Health Research Institute (Project Directors Kristen Miller and Zach Hettinger) and one to RTI International (Project Director Barry Blumenfeld). These projects are developing CDS for both clinicians and patients.

For the fourth component, AHRQ awarded a contract to NORC at the University of Chicago to undertake a programmatic evaluation of the CDS initiative thus far and to conduct a horizon scan of the future of patient-centered CDS. More information about this effort will be forthcoming.

For more information about AHRQ's CDS initiative, please visit

PC-CDS Learning Network

The Learning Network was a learning collaborative that informed and connected a wide variety of stakeholders to address the challenges and opportunities of patient-centered CDS. The project team developed the Analytical Framework for Action (AFA), which represents a life cycle of patient-centered CDS, including prioritizing, authoring, implementing, and measuring CDS interventions. Through its resource center, annual conferences, and multiple work groups, the Learning Network prioritized patient engagement and promoted patient-centered CDS in innovative ways.

CDS Connect Project

CDS Connect is a project to demonstrate how evidence-based care can be more rapidly incorporated into clinical practice through interoperable decision support. Its main focus is on prototype infrastructure for sharing, authoring, and learning from other CDS developers and implementers. Highlights include a repository of publicly-available CDS resources or “artifacts”, a CDS Authoring tool that enables creation of HL7 Clinical Quality Language, demonstration of open software packages (e.g., a Pain Management Summary SMART on FHIR app), and a public work group to inform the project’s direction.

CDS Demonstrations

In 2008, AHRQ awarded two 5-year demonstration contracts focused on the development, adoption, implementation, and evaluation of clinical decision support (CDS). The contracts were awarded to the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA (Project Director: Blackford Middleton, M.D.; Clinical Decision Support Consortium) and Yale University in New Haven, CT (Project Director: Richard Shiffman, M.D.; Guidelines Into Decision Support).

While working with a Technical Expert Panel, these projects were to advance our understanding of how best to incorporate CDS into the delivery of health care. The projects explored how the translation of clinical knowledge into CDS can be routinized in practice and taken to scale in order to improve the quality of health care delivery in the United States. An early report, Challenges and Barriers to Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Implementation (PDF, 254 KB), describes the challenges and barriers that the contractors encountered as part of their CDS demonstration project.

After 5 years, both projects demonstrated the ability to translate evidence-based knowledge into useful, actionable guidance for clinical care through CDS. Available below are links to a comprehensive report detailing the approach, methods, and lessons learned for each project as well as further research questions and policy considerations for the field and accompanying videos about each project.

CDS eRecommendations

Translating clinical guidelines into clinical decision support (CDS) rules has been an active area of research for many years. A key barrier to doing so has been the need to translate narrative recommendations from prose to unambiguous, coded formats that can be implemented by various clinical information systems and care settings. The AHRQ eRecommendations project addressed this barrier and laid the groundwork for further CDS advancements by formalizing the translation process and developing an “eRecommendations” format.

This project developed structured, coded logic statements called "eRecommendations" for 45 A- and B-graded recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and 12 recommendations relevant to the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs. These eRecommendations leveraged standard data elements, coding systems, and value sets developed for performance reporting. Pilot testing was conducted at Memorial Hermann Health System and with the Louisiana Health IT Regional Extension Center.

To learn more about the project, read the Final Report (PDF, 2.17 MB) and visit the AHRQ eRecommendations project profile.

CDS White Papers

To advance the understanding of incorporating clinical decision support (CDS) into ambulatory health care delivery, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) sponsored a series of white papers. The series begins with a concise, but comprehensive overview of CDS and its current state, including evidence of its potential impact and its use in clinical settings today. This overview is followed by a thought-provoking piece that explores the use of electronic CDS to improve clinical workflow in ambulatory and hospital-based settings through user-centered design approaches.

Below are highlights from the two papers in the series:

Clinical Decision Support Systems: State of the Art (PDF, 184 KB).
Eta S. Berner, Ed.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • CDS, when well-designed and implemented, holds great potential to improve health care quality, increase efficiency, and reduce health care costs.
  • Failure to attend to CDS alerts and recommendations poses challenges for those developing, implementing, and using CDS.
  • Researchers and vendors alike should address cognitive, informatics, structural, and workflow issues to optimize CDS design, implementation, and integration into clinical workflow.

Clinical Practice Improvement and Redesign: How Change in Workflow Can Be Supported by CDS (PDF, 634 KB).
Ben-Tzion Karsh, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • The goal of widespread use of CDS in ambulatory care has not yet been realized.
  • Successful integration of CDS into clinical workflow requires effort and user involvement.
  • There are a range of techniques available to researchers to define and measure workflow fit that will lead to innovations in CDS design and implementation.
  • User-centered design approaches can be used by developers and implementers to ensure that CDS works for a range of users, their diverse needs, and in a range of contexts of use.

CDS Guide

To further its mission of supporting the use of health information technology (IT) to drive improvements in health care outcomes, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is providing online access to the first chapter of Improving Medication Use and Outcomes with Clinical Decision Support: A Step-by-Step Guide, which is designed for implementers of clinical decision support (CDS) tools. Chapter 1 of this new guide outlines foundational elements for applying CDS to medication management, including:

  • The 'CDS Five Rights' approach (getting the right information to the right stakeholder, at the right point in workflow, through the right channel, and the right format).
  • Steps in the medication management cycle and opportunities for applying CDS to improve medication use and outcomes.
  • Current and desired future states of CDS use for medication management.
  • An overview of the CDS medication management literature.

To read the first chapter, visit

CDS Town Hall Meeting

In November 2008, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) convened a CDS Town Hall Meeting at the request of AHRQ. The meeting aimed to stimulate a discussion of the current CDS environment and options for future efforts to promote CDS adoption.

A summary report on the meeting and its outcomes is available for download. (PDF, 112 KB).