Since September 2010, under contract with the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), ECRI Institute has been establishing a national program to conduct horizon scanning of emerging health technology. The program’s main purpose is to better inform investments in patient-centered outcomes research at AHRQ by systematically identifying and monitoring target technologies to create an inventory of technologies that have the highest potential for impact on clinical care, the health care system, patient outcomes, and cost. We conducted this study to identify existing best practices and effective methods for health technology horizon scanning and to provide input to AHRQ to optimize its horizon scanning program.
We performed a comprehensive search for both peer-reviewed and gray literature to identify existing horizon scanning methods for emerging health technologies. We searched major medical databases, including MEDLINE, EMBASETM, CINAHL®, PsycINFO®, and the Cochrane Library. We also conducted targeted searches of digital libraries, relevant non-health- care-focused journals and databases, and the Web sites of the organizations that have extensive experience in technology horizon scanning or forecasting. We further sought input from a panel of experts and potential users of horizon scanning to identify additional methods. A two-day expert panel meeting was held in June 2011 to discuss the methods identified and potential approaches to incorporate the methods into AHRQ’s horizon scanning process.
Our search identified 23 formally established health technology horizon scanning programs, most of which are members of the International Information Network on New and Emerging Health Technologies (EuroScan). We also identified less structured horizon scanning activities performed by other entities, including U.S. government agencies and nongovernmental entities. These programs or activities often have different goals. As a result, their target technologies, time horizon of interest, and methods used for scanning or technology assessment may also vary. However, formally established programs share two sequential components in their horizon scanning process: (1) identification and monitoring of technologies of interest and (2) evaluation of potential impacts of the identified technologies. Most commonly used methods include searching a wide spectrum of sources—electronic and nonelectronic—to identify potential target technologies and seeking input from experts to prioritize or evaluate the technologies identified.
Existing horizon scanning programs use different methods to identify and assess emerging health technologies. The choice of the methods for AHRQ’s horizon scanning program should be based on the goal, scope of work, time frame, and funding for the program. It appears that optimization of a horizon scanning program may take longer than a few years.