Objectives: The objective of this exploratory study was to survey international health technology assessment (HTA) professionals to determine attitudes toward ethics in HTA.
Methods: An exploratory, quantitative, cross-sectional study design was developed. The sample population (n = 636) was selected from authors of the 206 articles published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care between 2005 and 2007. A survey instrument was piloted and e-mailed.
Results: The response rate was low (n = 104; 16.4 percent). Respondents were primarily middle-aged (46 ± 11 years) male (62 percent) health professionals from Western countries (n = 92; 88.5 percent), with a mean of 10 (± 6 years) years of HTA experience. Although at least 90 percent of respondents agreed that healthcare decisions involved value judgments and that ethical analysis was important to HTA, respondents were divided as to whether normative (n = 45; 44.6 percent) or descriptive (n = 38; 37.6 percent) ethical recommendations were necessary. Most respondents (n = 83; 81.4 percent) believed that HTA should include citizen participation, but two thirds (n = 67; 67.0 percent) agreed that the final decision should be restricted to decision makers. A majority of respondents thought that ethical analysis could be discussed anywhere within the HTA process, either by an expert trained in ethics (n = 62; 60.8 percent) or by an external consultant (n = 80; 78.4 percent).
Conclusions: This study showed that ethical discourse in HTA is constrained by practical considerations, which serves to limit moral inquiry. To increase ethical analysis, a positive attitude toward ethics needs to be fostered within the HTA community.