Information on ethical issues in health technology assessment: how and where to find them

Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2010 Oct;26(4):441-9. doi: 10.1017/S0266462310000954. Epub 2010 Oct 6.


Background: Comprehensive health technology assessments (HTAs) include thorough reflections on ethical issues associated with health technologies, their use, and value-based decisions in the assessment process. As methods of information retrieval for effectiveness assessments are not applicable to information retrieval on ethical issues, a specific methodological approach is necessary.

Objectives: In the absence of existing adapted methods, our objective was to develop a methodological approach for the systematic retrieval of information on ethical issues related to health technologies.

Method and results: A literature search was conducted to verify the non-existence of published comprehensive methodological approaches for the information retrieval on ethical issues for HTAs, and resulted in no hits. We, therefore, developed a step-by-step workflow following the workflow of information retrieval for effectiveness assessments: Step 1: Translation of the search question using the PICO scheme and additional components. Step 2: Concept building by modeling and linking search components. Step 3: Identification of synonyms in all relevant languages. Step 4: Selection of relevant information sources. Step 5: Design of search strategies for bibliographic databases. Step 6: Execution of search strategies and information seeking, including hand-searching. Step 7: Saving of retrieval results and standardized reporting of the process and results. Step 8: Final quality check and calculation of precision and recall.

Conclusions: Systematic searching for information on ethical issues related to health technologies can be performed following the common retrieval workflow for effectiveness assessments, but should be performed separately applying adapted procedures and search terms on ethical issues relevant to the research question.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual*
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Internet
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical / ethics*