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CDS - Clinical Decision Support

Clinical Decision Support (CDS) provides timely information to help inform decisions about a patient's care and has the ability to significantly impact improvements in quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) defines CDS as "health IT functionality that provides persons involved in care processes with general and person-specific information, intelligently filtered and organized, at appropriate times, to enhance health and health care.” CDS encompasses a variety of tools and processes to enhance decision-making in the clinical workflow. CDS is not simply an alert, notification, or explicit care suggestion. CDS helps clinical teams by supporting some routine tasks, warning of potential problems, or providing suggestions for the clinical team and patient to consider. CDS encompasses, but is not limited to

  • Computerized alerts and reminders for providers and patients
  • Condition-specific order sets
  • Focused patient data reports and summaries
  • Documentation templates
  • Diagnostic support
  • Contextually relevant reference information 

CDS is not intended to replace clinician judgment, but rather to assist care team members in making timely, informed, and higher quality, evidence-based decisions, incorporating resources like clinical guidelines and best practices. The CDS Five Rights model states improvements are achieved in desired healthcare outcomes if communicating 

  • The right information
  • To the right people
  • In the right CDS intervention formats
  • Through the right channels
  • At the right times in workflow

CDS and eCQMs are closely related, share many common requirements, data elements, and support health care quality improvement. The impact of a CDS intervention may be assessed with an eCQM. 

Learn about Key Federal CDS Efforts

Adapting Clinical Guidelines for the Digital Age - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the Center for Surveillance.

Adapting Clinical Guidelines for the Digital Age - American Journal of Medical Quality featured supplement including:

Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services’ Public Health Informatics Office, is leading an initiative to connect experts and solutions that can help ensure our most up-to-date scientific evidence is followed and results in desired outcomes. Connecting research and evidence swiftly and accurately to those who need it most, including clinicians and patients, can help save lives. This initiative includes three high-level steps:

  • Multi-stakeholder Kaizen event, hosted by CDC in early February 2018, identifying how clinical guidelines can be better adapted for implementation in a digital age and kicking off a multi-stakeholder effort to redesign the process and establish standards for “computable guidelines”
  • Post-Kaizen implementation period, where the future state process developed during the Kaizen event is tested and refined as it is applied to select “pilot” guidelines
  • Publication and socialization of the resulting standardized process to share knowledge gained from the piloting and work towards scaling across the industry to help the scientific evidence in clinical guidelines reach patient care more easily, quickly, accurately, and consistently - beginning with a Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) Implementation Guide (balloted at HL7® in September 2019)

Appropriate Use Criteria Program is a CMS program to promote the adoption of appropriate use criteria for advanced diagnostic imaging services through CDS. Appropriate use criteria are evidence-based and assist professionals who order and furnish applicable imaging services to make the most appropriate treatment decisions for a specific clinical condition.

Optimizing Strategies for Clinical Decision Support - The National Academy of Medicine and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology special publication summarizes a meeting series with multi-stakeholder experts who discussed the potential of CDS to transform care.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) CDS Initiative from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, aims to advance evidence into practice through CDS and make CDS more shareable, health IT standards-based, and publicly-available. The initiative’s main components are

  • CDS Connect features a prototype infrastructure for sharing interoperable CDS and includes a web-based repository of CDS artifacts, a CDS Authoring Tool that utilizes clinical quality language, other open-source software, and lessons learned from use case demonstrations.
  • CDS Innovation Collaborative (CDSiC) - is a learning collaborative with a focus on patient-centered CDS. In contrast to traditional clinician-facing CDS, patient-centered CDS is CDS that focuses on the patient, or their caregiver, and facilitates their active involvement in healthcare decision-making with their clinicians. The CDSiC is bringing together diverse perspectives to produce resources and evidence to advance the field of patient-centered clinical decision support, making it more valuable and meaningful to patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems.
  • CEDAR: The CEPI Evidence And Discovery (CEDAR) project aimed to make evidence repositories, such as those developed by AHRQ’s Center for Evidence and Practice Improvement (CEPI) more FAIR - findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable - through technologies such as application programming interfaces. Health information technology developers, including eCQM and CDS developers, can incorporate the evidence and design new and exciting ways to make the information available where, when, and how stakeholders need it most. This project is now complete. 
  • Funding opportunities targeted to Digital Healthcare Research and clinical decision support efforts.
  • An evaluation project that combines an evaluation of AHRQ’s CDS initiative with a horizon scan of the future of patient-centered CDS.

The standards used for the electronic representation of CDS and eCQMs were developed separately and used different data models and computable expression languages. CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) supported efforts to identify, develop, harmonize standards. Clinical Quality Language (CQL) is a logic expression language that can be used with both CDS and eCQMs. Beginning in 2019, CQL is used in eCQMs for CMS quality reporting/performance periods. Learn more about efforts to harmonize standards for CDS and eCQM.

Current standards

Visit the HL7® CDS Workgroup

Last Updated: Feb 14, 2024