Background: There is a need for innovative methodologies to identify and prioritize topics for health technology assessment (HTA). A pilot project to evaluate the methodology for specialty mapping was undertaken in the area of child and adolescent health. Two case studies are presented, in the area of sexually transmitted infections and acute pain.
Methods: The methodology comprised sequential stages, based on principles of systematic review. A “stakeholder model” encouraged wider participation. Key stages included identifying the topic area and setting the scope; developing a care pathway; searching for clinical guidelines/guidance, and evaluation literature; synthesis and mapping of literature to the “nodes” of the care pathway to highlight gaps; prioritizing the topics with stakeholders; and referring priorities to the appropriate agencies.
Results: A total of thirty guidelines/guidance documents and sixteen evaluation studies were mapped across the two case studies. In some nodes of the care pathway, more literature was mapped than others, suggesting important gaps in research and policy guidance. Sixty-two policy questions were identified and were rated by stakeholders in prioritization workshops. The highest priorities have been considered by senior committees for likely commissioning as research or guidelines/guidance.
Conclusions: This is one of the few published examples of innovative methodology to identify and prioritize topics for HTA. Specialty mapping can make a positive contribution to the policy agenda, with several research and policy gaps being fed into existing prioritization channels. Adequate time, resources, and capacity is required particularly in engaging stakeholders and developing a care pathway. Implementation of specialty mapping in other topic areas with on-going evaluation is recommended.