Priority setting at the micro-, meso- and macro-levels in Canada, Norway and Uganda

Health Policy. 2007 Jun;82(1):78-94. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2006.09.001. Epub 2006 Oct 10.


The objectives of this study were (1) to describe the process of healthcare priority setting in Ontario-Canada, Norway and Uganda at the three levels of decision-making; (2) to evaluate the description using the framework for fair priority setting, accountability for reasonableness; so as to identify lessons of good practices.

Methods: We carried out case studies involving key informant interviews, with 184 health practitioners and health planners from the macro-level, meso-level and micro-level from Canada-Ontario, Norway and Uganda (selected by virtue of their varying experiences in priority setting). Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analyzed using a modified thematic approach. The descriptions were evaluated against the four conditions of "accountability for reasonableness", relevance, publicity, revisions and enforcement. Areas of adherence to these conditions were identified as lessons of good practices; areas of non-adherence were identified as opportunities for improvement.

Results: (i)

Description: at the macro-level, in all three countries, cabinet makes most of the macro-level resource allocation decisions and they are influenced by politics, public pressure, and advocacy. Decisions within the ministries of health are based on objective formulae and evidence. International priorities influenced decisions in Uganda. Some priority-setting reasons are publicized through circulars, printed documents and the Internet in Canada and Norway. At the meso-level, hospital priority-setting decisions were made by the hospital managers and were based on national priorities, guidelines, and evidence. Hospital departments that handle emergencies, such as surgery, were prioritized. Some of the reasons are available on the hospital intranet or presented at meetings. Micro-level practitioners considered medical and social worth criteria. These reasons are not publicized. Many practitioners lacked knowledge of the macro- and meso-level priority-setting processes. (ii) Evaluation-relevance: medical evidence and economic criteria were thought to be relevant, but lobbying was thought to be irrelevant. Publicity: all cases lacked clear and effective mechanisms for publicity. REVISIONS: formal mechanisms, following the planning hierarchy, were considered less effective, informal political mechanisms were considered more effective. Canada and Norway had patients' relations officers to deal with patients' dissensions; however, revisions were more difficult in Uganda. Enforcement: leadership for ensuring decision-making fairness was not apparent.

Conclusions: The different levels of priority setting in the three countries fulfilled varying conditions of accountability for reasonableness, none satisfied all the four conditions. To improve, decision makers at the three levels in all three cases should engage frontline practitioners, develop more effectively publicized reasons, and develop formal mechanisms for challenging and revising decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Health Priorities / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Norway
  • Ontario
  • Uganda