Objectives: The aim of this study was to define an effective early warning system, to identify and rank the characteristics of an effective early warning system for emerging health technologies, and to evaluate current early warning systems against these characteristics.
Methods: An iterative Delphi-type process with the thirteen members of the International Information Network on New and Changing Health Technologies (EuroScan). We synthesized key characteristics that network members had graded. Members were then asked whether these characteristics were present or fulfilled in their system.
Results: The definition of an effective early warning system developed was the following: a system that identifies innovations in the field of health technology likely to have a significant impact; and disseminates information relevant to the needs of the customer which is timely, so as to enable appropriate decision making (such as resource allocation), facilitate appropriate adoption, and identify further research requirements. Five primary and eleven secondary components of effective early warning systems were identified. The five primary characteristics concerned relevance, independence, resourcing, a clear pathway for the outputs to reach decision makers, and defined customers. Although the primary characteristics were present or fulfilled to some extent in the majority of evaluated early warning systems, there was considerable variability in the presence of the secondary characteristics in the evaluated systems.
Conclusions: Our study provides a definition for an effective early warning system and a shared understanding of the important characteristics and components of such systems. This work should provide guidance to those setting up new early warning systems as well as for those managing and reviewing current systems.