Assessing Health Technology in Oslo

Picture this: 1,000 practitioners and policy makers, the Norwegian Health Minister, high profile speakers, 30 panels, hundreds of oral and poster sessions, and delegates from more than 55 countries all together in Oslo, Norway, to discuss what determines whether or not a new medicine should be made available to patients.

What’s bringing all of these experts together? The annual meeting of Health Technology Assessment international – the global scientific and professional society for those who produce, use, or encounter Health Technology Assessment (HTA). HTA evaluates the scientific evidence of a medicine's effectiveness by assessing its broader impact on health and cost, and determining what value it brings both to individuals and to a country's health care system.

In many countries across the globe, the HTA process determines whether a health technology—such as a medicine—should be used. Once a medicine has been approved by a medicines regulatory authority as safe and effective, the HTA process begins. During HTA, various stakeholders such as physicians, hospitals, patient organizations, HTA agencies, and medical professionals assess the medicines. Their input is then evaluated for a final decision on the technology in question.

Since Health Technology Assessment often controls whether or not people have access to new, advanced treatments that they need to combat their disease, one of the most critical components in this discussion includes integrating the voices of patients into HTA decisions. After all, those living with a disease have the best idea of how a medicine could potentially impact their life, and their perspective can prove very insightful.

Additionally, patient perspectives can help illuminate how the value of a medicine can change and grow over time. While HTA assesses a medicine at the time it receives regulatory approval, the value a medicine brings to patients often grows as with experience of use in the real world it can benefit more people and even proves effective against other conditions.

In Europe today, over 60 HTA bodies in the 28 Member States assess medicines as they are approved by the European Medicines Agency. Much of the information being evaluated is essentially the same resulting in considerable duplication of work. This has been recognized by the Europe Commission who are overseeing an initiative aimed at bringing the different HTA bodies together to find common ground and to share work. A new European level activity is being piloted called the rapid Relative Effectiveness Assessment and which intends to provide a European assessment of the efficacy of a new medicine relative to that of alternative medicines for the same condition that are currently in use in Europe. It is hoped that this European level activity will generate efficiencies and standardization of assessments and thus benefit the whole healthcare system and most importantly patients.