Is HTA facing death by acronym?

By Megan Brodie 2 years ago | In Comment
  • 2 years ago
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8 July 2022

As an industry, pharma loves an acronym more than most. ICER, QALY, NMP, HTA, PBAC, MSAC, LSDP, DoH, TGA, OMG. Ok, the last one isn’t pharma-specific but really, if we expect to communicate effectively with the average Aussie, then industry has to consider its use of acronyms.

First, the basics. What is an acronym? If you didn’t work it out from the opening paragraph, it is a word formed from the first letter of each word in a compound term.

BTW, did you know the rise of texting and social media means acronyms are being used more than ever? Although, TBH, it seems to be a bit of an age thing – the older you are, the less likely you are to use acronyms. Sure, oldies know what ASAP, LOL, POTUS and even FOMO mean, but what about SMH (not the newspaper), TTYL, NOYB or POS?

Acronyms can either make communication simpler or be totally confusing. Just ask any parent of a teenager.

Hence, with the review of Australia’s health technology assessment (HTA) processes about to get underway, now is a good time to consider the use of acronyms. After all, if you went out on the weekend and said to a bunch of non-pharma people you were interested in HTA, would they know what you meant?¬†According to this site, it could be one of almost 40 things (Hoof Trimmers Association, anyone?)

“We use health technology assessments (HTAs) to inform our decisions about which health technologies can be sold in Australia, and which ones qualify for Australian Government subsidy,” says the Department of Health website. Hardly gripping stuff.

If the industry is going to get the Australian population engaged in a conversation about HTA, then it is going to have to talk about something other than HTA. HTA needs a rebrand – and fast.

Perhaps we need to think like the advertising gurus on The Gruen Transfer. If selling HTA were to be given to these experts, how would they pitch it? It might go something like this.

Scene 1. A young woman is lying sick in a hospital bed, tubes everywhere, machine beeping. A man sits in a chair nearby looking forlorn.

The voiceover says, ‘Karen is sick. Very sick. She could die. But there is a medicine that would not just make Karen better, it could save her life. In working out whether it should pay for Karen’s medicine, the government looks at a number of factors to determine the price. That price is what it believes Karen’s life is worth.

Scene 2. A different young woman is crossing the road at a busy intersection. She looks each way nervously before stepping out.

The voiceover cuts in. ‘This is Margaret. Margaret crosses the road at this point every day. It is a dangerous intersection, so the government works out whether it should pay for lights to be installed by determining the risk to Margaret, and how many lives like hers could be saved. The measure they use is how much they believe Margaret’s life is worth.

Scene 3. Split-screen with Karen and Margaret.

Voiceover: In Australia, the government says a person’s life is worth $5.1 million, or $222,000 a year. This is used to work out how much it will pay for life-saving innovations.

However, when working out how much a life is worth through medical interventions like new medicines, the value of a life is considered to be much lower Рabout $40,000 a year. 

For the first time in decades, Australia is reviewing the way it determines how it works out the price it pays for life-saving medicines and vaccines. This will impact their cost and their availability, so it’s important all Australians get involved and have their say.

It’s called the HTA Review, HTA standing for health technology assessment. It sounds complex, but it’s really very simple.

We believe a life saved is worth the same, regardless of how.

Final screen (words): All lives matter
#alllivesmatter https://alllivesmatter.com.au

Ok, I’m not giving up my day job and going into advertising, but you get the point. Australians do need to know about HTA, because they need to know that their access to medicines on the PBS and medical technologies on the MBS is worked out using an economic equation that includes an arbitrary value of what a year of life is worth.

They may not need to know what an ICER or a QALY is, but they do need to know that such things exist.

Covid sparked a conversation about what a life is worth, Australians clear that saving the elderly and vulnerable in our society was important to them. The government responded, no doubt ignoring its own guidelines in spending more than $8 billion on vaccines alone.

HTA is like an insurance policy; you don’t know you need it until you need it. It kicks in when your doctor recommends an expensive test or prescribes a high-cost medicine you can’t afford, or you need to be vaccinated – this is when HTA makes a difference.

HTA will impact every Australian at some point in their life. Isn’t it time we let them know it?

©MedNews 2022

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