Ethical analysis to improve decision-making on health technologies
Samuli I Saarni, Bjørn Hofmann, Kristian Lampe, Dagmar Lühmann, Marjukka Mäkelä, Marcial Velasco-Garrido, Ilona Autti-Rämö
Health technology assessment (HTA) is the multidisciplinary study of the implications of the development, diffusion and use of health technologies. It supports health-policy decisions by providing a joint knowledge base for decision-makers. To increase its policy relevance, HTA tries to extend beyond effectiveness and costs to also considering the social, organizational and ethical implications of technologies. However, a commonly accepted method for analysing the ethical aspects of health technologies is lacking.
This paper describes a model for ethical analysis of health technology that is easy and flexible to use in different organizational settings and cultures. The model is part of the EUnetHTA project, which focuses on the transferability of HTAs between countries.
The EUnetHTA ethics model is based on the insight that the whole HTA process is value laden. It is not sufficient to only analyse the ethical consequences of a technology, but also the ethical issues of the whole HTA process must be considered. Selection of assessment topics, methods and outcomes is essentially a value-laden decision. Health technologies may challenge moral or cultural values and beliefs, and their implementation may also have significant impact on people other than the patient. These are essential considerations for health policy. The ethics model is structured around key ethical questions rather than philosophical theories, to be applicable to different cultures and usable by non-philosophers.
Integrating ethical considerations into HTA can improve the relevance of technology assessments for health care and health policy in both developed and developing countries.