Creating organisational capacity for priority setting in health care : using a bottom-up approach to implement a top-down policy decision

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå university

Abstract: In this thesis, priority setting to the form of the Swedish parliamental decision on priority setting, 1997, is considered an innovation for implementation in health care. The features of this innovation are investigated. The practical implications of implementation are identified by investigating the user organisation, ie, Swedish health care organisations and management systems.Also, a case of a three-stage process for macro-level priority setting that engaged the entire organisation in the Västerbotten County Council (VCC) is presented. This is done against a background of preceding implementation efforts in the VCC.Four specific research efforts and papers are presented.In Paper I, priority setting is operationalised into a multi-dimensional resource allocation task. On that basis, with the help of interviews (1998) and surveys (2002 and 2005) primarily of VCC health care managers, the impact of implementation is measured by prioritisation structures, processes and decisions. Survey response rates were low. Results were used as qualitative data, internally compared, and interpreted as: a) responses reflected mainly “early adopters’” opinions; b) priority setting is an ambiguous concept; c) indicating limited overall implementation; d) reinterpretation of the prioritisation task occurred over time among respondents; and, e) this group took increasingly personal responsibility as stakeholders in priority setting.Paper II reports a case study intervention of explicit, departmental level priority setting with the aim of improving cost-effectiveness in in vitro fertilization resource use and a rationing of services perceived legitimate by all stakeholders. The intervention combined priority setting and structured quality improvement techniques. Results were: a) improved operational efficiency of diagnostic procedures that allowed resources to be reallocated to treatment; and b) patients were prioritized and treatment resources were rationed based on evidence of treatment effect among subgroups. Evaluation showed that the procedure met stated criteria for legitimacy.In Paper III, a full-format test of the macro level prioritisation process is described and evaluated by participants with the help of surveys after each completed stage. Participants report the need for improvement of elements in the overall process and of procedural specifics. However, overall there was a strong commitment to the initiative and satisfaction with the process and the resulting decisions.In Paper IV, procedural specifics of the prioritisation process are evaluated. They are also compared to the Program Budgeting and Marginal Analysis (PBMA) framework when used for macro level purposes. Procedures provided intended results such as vertical and horizontal priority setting and a consistent process. However, economic targets were not fully achieved in any of the stages.Conclusions include that health care management systems are not prepared for priority setting and need profound restructuring and that the prioritisation process described in Papers III and IV was successful because: a) the process satisfied politicians’ directives; b) participants were satisfied with the procedures and perceived the subsequent reallocation decisions as legitimate; and, c) methods resulted in the intended outcome.Factors suggested as the basis of success include: long-term overall preparations; broad and deep participation; a readiness for change among participants; a stage for horizontal priority setting that added to the quality, feasibility and perceived validity of the knowledge base; a strong process leadership; and politicians determined to protect the process from opportunistic disturbances.

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