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Policy Brief “Health Technology Assessment – An introduction to objectives, role of evidence, and structure in Europe”

Velasco-Garrido M, Busse R
Copenhagen/ Brussels: WHO/ European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies



Health systems have developed at different speeds, and with differing degrees of complexity throughout the twentieth century, reflecting the diverse political and social conditions in each country.

Notwithstanding their diversity, all systems, however, share a common reason for their existence, namely the improvement of health for their entire populations. To attain this goal a health system undertakes a series of functions, most notably, the financing and delivering of health services.

Since available resources are limited, delivering health services involves making decisions. Decisions are required on what interventions should be offered, the way the health system is organized, and how the interventions should be provided in order to achieve an optimal health gain with available resources, while, at the same time, respecting people’s expectations.

Decision-makers thus need information about the available options and their potential consequences. It is now clear that interventions once thought to be beneficial have, in the light of more careful evaluation, turned out to be at best of no benefit or, at worst, harmful to the individual and counterproductive to the system. This recognition has led to the emergence of a concept known as “evidence-based medicine”, which argues that the information used by policymakers should be based on rigorous research to the fullest extent possible (Ham et al. 1995).

This policy brief introduces the concept of “health technology assessment”, which has been described as “the speciality of assistance to health policymaking” (Jonsson & Banta 1999) by means of evidence, describing what ismeant by evidence. We then review the structures and institutions involved in health technology assessment at the European level.

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