Harmonization of ethics in health technology assessment: a revision of the Socratic approach

Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2014 Jan;30(1):3-9. doi: 10.1017/S0266462313000688.


Background: Ethics has been part of health technology assessment (HTA) from its beginning in the 1970s, and is currently part of HTA definitions. Several methods in ethics have been used in HTA. Some approaches have been developed especially for HTA, such as the Socratic approach, which has been used for a wide range of health technologies. The Socratic approach is used in several ways, and there is a need for harmonization to promote its usability and the transferability of its results. Accordingly, the objective of this study was to stimulate experts in ethics and HTA to revise the Socratic approach.

Methods: Based on the current literature and experiences in applying methods in ethics, a panel of ethics experts involved in HTA critically analyzed the limitations of the Socratic approach during a face-to-face workshop. On the basis of this analysis a revision of the Socratic approach was agreed on after deliberation in several rounds through e-mail correspondence.

Results: Several limitations with the Socratic approach are identified and addressed in the revised version which consists of a procedure of six steps, 7 main questions and thirty-three explanatory and guiding questions. The revised approach has a broader scope and provides more guidance than its predecessor. Methods for information retrieval have been elaborated.

Conclusion: The presented revision of the Socratic approach is the result of a joint effort of experts in the field of ethics and HTA. Consensus is reached in the expert panel on an approach that is considered to be more clear, comprehensive, and applicable for addressing ethical issues in HTA.

MeSH terms

  • Congresses as Topic
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Philosophy*
  • Problem Solving
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical / ethics*
  • Thinking