Health Technology Assessment

Julia Goyal (j4goyal@uwaterloo.ca)

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Health technology assessment, or HTA, is a multidisciplinary approach to the systematic evaluation of health technologies. HTAs have now become a prominent element in health systems around the globe. The name may be misleading because health technology assessment is not all about technology! When we refer to HTA, the technology in question could be any medical intervention, including surgical interventions such as a heart bypass or hip replacement, medical devices such as pacemakers, or medications.

Using HTA, we study the clinical effectiveness or efficacy of a medical intervention, i.e., how much it benefits patients compared to current alternative treatments, what the economic impact of making it available to patients could be, how health policy might be impacted by the new technology, and what the social and ethical implications might be for patients. HTA is designed to operate independently from interest groups, health politics, health care funders, pharmaceutical and medical device industries, and providers of health services. HTAs are commonly carried out by independent agencies or university departments at the request of organizations—typically Ministries of Health—that are considering the adoption of new health technologies. In Canada, this could be the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH), the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA), the Health Technology Assessment Unit of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR), among others.

In an environment where funding for healthcare is not infinite and budgets may be strictly fixed for years at a time, policy makers need reliable information to inform the decision-making process. HTA plays a vital role here as a decision support instrument to help policy makers decide whether to adopt a technology, whether to cover it through medicare, and how much to pay for it. Through the work of HTA, the best currently available information on the real-life benefits of medical interventions are presented transparently and systematically.

Understandably, HTA requires a wide range of expertise and methodological skills to ensure that the final HTA report is an accurate and thorough reflection of the best current research, evidence and data about a health technology. Used within health systems, HTA helps to identify optimal treatments that provide the most benefits for a given cost. When you think of prostate cancer, for example, four or five different competing treatments exist, and health technology assessments really try and summarize the totality of evidence to help decision makers assess which option is the best and most efficacious treatment for patients.

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Julia Goyal is an MSc student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. Julia’s research interests include occupational health and safety policy, the sharing economy, and emerging new forms of work. Her Masters research focuses on the work and health situations of Airbnb service providers and users. Julia is very involved with the University of Waterloo graduate student community and student governance. She serves on various committees of the UW Graduate Student Association and UW Senate, as well as on the UW Joint Health and Safety Committee. She is the Chair of the UW Graduate Student Endowment Fund