Objectives: Investments in health research should lead to improvements in health and health care. This is also the remit of the main HTA program in the Netherlands. The aims of this study were to assess whether the results of this program have led to such improvements and to analyze how best to assess the impact from health research.
Methods: We assessed the impact of individual HTA projects by adapting the "payback framework" developed in the United Kingdom. We conducted dossier reviews and sent a survey to principal investigators of forty-three projects awarded between 2000 and 2003. We then provided an overview of documented output and outcome that was assessed by ten HTA experts using a scoring method. Finally, we conducted five case studies using information from additional dossier review and semistructured key informant interviews.
Results: The findings confirm that the payback framework is a useful approach to assess the impact of HTA projects. We identified over 101 peer reviewed papers, more than twenty-five PhDs, citations of research in guidelines (six projects), and implementation of new treatment strategies (eleven projects). The case studies provided greater depth and understanding about the levels of impact that arise and why and how they have been achieved.
Conclusions: It is generally too early to determine whether the HTA program led to actual changes in healthcare policy and practice. However, the results can be used as a baseline measurement for future evaluation and can help funding organizations or HTA agencies consider how to assess impact, possibly routinely. This, in turn, could help inform research strategies and justify expenditure for health research.