Ballini, L., Minozzi, S., Negro, A., Pirini, G., & Grilli, R. (2010). A Method for Addressing Research Gaps in HTA, Developed Whilst Evaluating Robotic-Assisted Surgery: A Proposal. Health Research Policy and Systems, 8(27). Retrieved from: http://www.health-policy-systems.com/content/pdf/1478-4505-8-27.pdf.
When evaluating health technologies with insufficient scientific evidence, only innovative potentials can be assessed. A Regional policy initiative linking the governance of health innovations to the development of clinical research has been launched by the Region of Emilia Romagna Healthcare Authority. This program, aimed at enhancing the research capacity of health organizations, encourages the development of adoption plans that combine use in clinical practice along with experimental use producing better knowledge. Following the launch of this program we developed and propose a method that, by evaluating and ranking scientific uncertainty, identifies the moment (during the stages of the technology’s development ) where it would be sensible to invest in research resources and capacity to further its evaluation. The method was developed and tested during a research project evaluating robotic surgery.
A multidisciplinary panel carried out a 5-step evaluation process: 1) Definition of the technology’s evidence profile and of all relevant clinical outcomes; 2) systematic review of scientific literature and outlines of the uncertainty profile differentiating research results into steady, plausible, uncertain and unknown results; 3) definition of the acceptable level of uncertainty for investing research resources; 4) analysis of local context; 5) identification of clinical indications with promising clinical return.
Outputs for each step of the evaluation process are: 1) evidence profile of the technology and systematic review; 2) uncertainty profile for each clinical indication; 3) exclusion of clinical indications not fulfilling the criteria of maximum acceptable risk; 4) mapping of local context; 5) recommendations for research. Outputs of the evaluation process for robotic surgery are described in the paper.
This method attempts to rank levels of uncertainty in order to distinguish promising from hazardous clinical use and to outline a research course of action. Decision makers wishing to tie coverage policies to the development of scientific evidence could find this method a useful aid to the governance of innovations.