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Editorial, /

Editorial by HFE President John Bowis

Access for patients to medical technologies is a key issue in Europe right now, particularly due to discussions on changing rules of approval for medical devices as well as the concluding discussions in the European Parliament regarding patient safety in healthcare settings.  Following a market authorisation (drugs) or a CE mark (medical devices and diagnostics), health technology assessments can provide fundamental information of the value of the new technology to support patient access to medical technologies. This process occurs at Member State level and guides decision-makers to choose which products and services to make available in health systems for patients.

Today marks the official launch of the permanent European network for health technology assessment (HTA) as prescribed by the Directive on patient’s rights in cross border healthcare.  The voluntary network aims to support cooperation between Member States on HTA, as well as jointly performing analyses of information to be exchanged, and will help to reduce duplication of assessments in Europe.

I believe this network can provide value to patients and professionals, as well as to Member State health systems. However, the processes governing the network will ultimately determine whether patients will be the main beneficiaries by having access to the most innovative, effective and safe technologies for prevention and treatment of disease. The permanent network will provide the strategic structure to HTA cooperation in Europe, while the Joint Action on HTA “2” will continue contributing the scientific basis for assessments (until 2015).  Yet, many questions remain about how the network will function in practice.

It is my belief that the network must pursue strategic cooperation between Member States that will fundamentally benefit patients and foster equal access to treatments. For example, the information exchanged between Member States must include the patient’s perspective on a new product or service in order to capture the full value of a technology.  Additionally, the inclusion of the patient perspective can only be guaranteed via greater transparency: both stakeholder involvement in assessments and methodologies utilised for each assessment. Making the assessments publicly available must be a component of transparency within the network as well as including an appeals process for stakeholders in the event that a joint/shared HTA may not have fully considered the patient (or other essential stakeholder) perspective.

This next step for HTA cooperation in Europe can offer opportunities for world class healthcare by involving patients, professionals, hospitals, insurers, payers and industry and taking into consideration short and long term healthcare challenges to be addressed.  However, as the network develops further and determines the strategic framework for cooperation, the focus should be on ensuring innovative products and services are, and remain, available and accessible for patients throughout Europe.