JOURNAL ARTICLE

The impact of the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme, 2003-13: a multimethod evaluation

Susan Guthrie, Teresa Bienkowska-Gibbs, Catriona Manville, Alexandra Pollitt, Anne Kirtley, Steven Wooding
Health Technology Assessment: HTA 2015, 19 (67): 1-291
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BACKGROUND: The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme supports research tailored to the needs of NHS decision-makers, patients and clinicians. This study reviewed the impact of the programme, from 2003 to 2013, on health, clinical practice, health policy, the economy and academia. It also considered how HTA could maintain and increase its impact.

METHODS: Interviews (n = 20): senior stakeholders from academia, policy-making organisations and the HTA programme. Bibliometric analysis: citation analysis of publications arising from HTA programme-funded research. Researchfish survey: electronic survey of all HTA grant holders. Payback case studies (n = 12): in-depth case studies of HTA programme-funded research.

RESULTS: We make the following observations about the impact, and routes to impact, of the HTA programme: it has had an impact on patients, primarily through changes in guidelines, but also directly (e.g. changing clinical practice); it has had an impact on UK health policy, through providing high-quality scientific evidence - its close relationships with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the National Screening Committee (NSC) contributed to the observed impact on health policy, although in some instances other organisations may better facilitate impact; HTA research is used outside the UK by other HTA organisations and systematic reviewers - the programme has an impact on HTA practice internationally as a leader in HTA research methods and the funding of HTA research; the work of the programme is of high academic quality - the Health Technology Assessment journal ensures that the vast majority of HTA programme-funded research is published in full, while the HTA programme still encourages publication in other peer-reviewed journals; academics agree that the programme has played an important role in building and retaining HTA research capacity in the UK; the HTA programme has played a role in increasing the focus on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in medicine - it has also contributed to increasingly positive attitudes towards HTA research both within the research community and the NHS; and the HTA focuses resources on research that is of value to patients and the UK NHS, which would not otherwise be funded (e.g. where there is no commercial incentive to undertake research). The programme should consider the following to maintain and increase its impact: providing targeted support for dissemination, focusing resources when important results are unlikely to be implemented by other stakeholders, particularly when findings challenge vested interests; maintaining close relationships with NICE and the NSC, but also considering other potential users of HTA research; maintaining flexibility and good relationships with researchers, giving particular consideration to the Technology Assessment Report (TAR) programme and the potential for learning between TAR centres; maintaining the academic quality of the work and the focus on NHS need; considering funding research on the short-term costs of the implementation of new health technologies; improving the monitoring and evaluation of whether or not patient and public involvement influences research; improve the transparency of the priority-setting process; and continuing to monitor the impact and value of the programme to inform its future scientific and administrative development.

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