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Department of Health and Human Services

AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Healthcare Horizon Scanning System is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Its purpose is to conduct horizon scanning of emerging health care technologies and innovations in order to better inform patient-centered outcomes research investments at AHRQ through the Effective Health Care (EHC) Program. The Healthcare Horizon Scanning System provides AHRQ a systematic process to identify and monitor target technologies and innovations in health care and to create an inventory of target technologies that have the highest potential for impact on clinical care, the health care system, patient outcomes, and costs. It will also be a tool for the public to identify and find information on new health care technologies and interventions. Any investigator or funder of research will be able to use the AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System to select potential research topics.

The health care technologies and innovations of interest for horizon scanning are those that have yet to diffuse into or become part of established health care practice. These health care interventions are still in the early stages of development or adoption except in the case of new applications of already-diffused technologies. Consistent with the definitions of health care interventions provided by the Institute of Medicine and the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, AHRQ is interested in innovations in drugs and biologics, medical devices, screening and diagnostic tests, procedures, services and programs, and care delivery.

Horizon scanning involves two processes. The first is the identification and monitoring of new and evolving health care interventions that are purported to or may hold potential to diagnose, treat, or otherwise manage a particular condition or to improve care delivery for a variety of conditions. The second is the analysis of the relevant health care context in which these new and evolving interventions exist in order to understand their potential impact on clinical care, the health care system, patient outcomes, and costs. It is NOT the goal of the AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System to make predictions on the future utilization and costs of any health care technology. Rather, the reports will help inform and guide the planning and prioritization of research resources.

The research for the Healthcare Horizon Scanning System includes examination of published and unpublished literature as well as scientific conference presentations and abstracts, gray literature*, news feeds, company reports, and press releases.

The Healthcare Horizon Scanning System produces reports and status updates from its activities organized around AHRQ’s 14 Priority Conditions. These include:

  • A detailed Protocol and Operations Manual for the AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System activities
  • Status Update Reports, which are revised every two months, provide a listing and brief description of topics identified through the scanning process and being tracked. The reports also lists topics that were identified but not tracked or that were archived during the prior two months
  • Individual Topic Profiles are written on interventions approaching diffusion into practice. These detailed reports identify and examine factors that are likely to influence the potential for diffusion and future use of the health care technology or innovation. Extended Topic Profiles are produced on an ad hoc basis in coordination with other research development activities in the Effective Health Care program as well as questions received from the program’s stakeholders. Potential High Impact Reports present information on the interventions which are expected to have the highest impact based on feedback on Topic Profiles from a variety of stakeholders. The Potential High Impact reports are revised and updated every six months.
  • A Systematic Review of the evidence for the most up-to-date methods for horizon scanning, including the identification, prioritization, assessment, and monitoring of target technologies in health care, thus allowing effective strategies to be appropriately incorporated into the AHRQ process in the future.
  • Pilot project: Cost analyses report on selected potential high-impact topics.

We welcome comments on these reports, which may be sent by e-mail to

It is anticipated that an AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System will help inform stakeholders as they participate in the topic nomination process for the EHC Program. Reports from horizon scanning will be available to help inform stakeholders about technologies that have potential for a high impact on clinical care in the future. Stakeholders can consider the information from these reports along with their experience and expertise to identify potential topics for future EHC research. In addition to informing AHRQ’s research priority setting, reports produced from horizon scanning can also inform other funders of research. Investigators requesting AHRQ grant funding also select topics for comparative-effectiveness research. Reports made public from the AHRQ Healthcare Horizon Scanning System will help inform investigators about health care technologies that have potential for a high impact on clinical care in the future as they consider areas in which to focus their own research.

The Horizon Scanning team is led by ECRI Institute with partners Emerson Consultants, Inc., Mathematica Policy Research Inc., Provider Resources, Inc., and Thomson Reuters (Healthcare), Inc.

* Gray literature consists of reports, studies, articles, and monographs produced by federal and local government agencies, private organizations, educational facilities, consulting firms, and corporations. These documents do not appear in the peer-reviewed journal literature.