The criterion of medical need figures prominently in the Dutch model for reimbursement decisions as well as in many international models for health care priority setting. Nevertheless the conception of need remains too vague and general to be applied successfully in priority decisions. This contribution explores what is wrong with the proposed definitions of medical need and identifies features in the decision-making process that inhibit implementation and usefulness of this criterion. In contrast to what is commonly assumed, the problem is not so much a failure to understand the nature of the medical need criterion and the value judgments involved. Instead the problem seems to be a mismatch between the information regarding medical need and the way in which these concerns are incorporated into policy models. Criteria-medical need, as well as other criteria such as effectiveness and cost-effectiveness-are usually perceived as "hurdles," and each intervention can pass or fail assessment on the basis of each criterion and therefore be included or excluded from public funding. These models fail to understand that choices are not so much between effective and ineffective treatments, or necessary and unnecessary ones. Rather, choices are often between interventions that are somewhat effective and/or needed. Evaluation of such services requires a holistic approach and not a sequence of fail or pass judgments. To improve applicability of criteria that pertain to medical need we therefore suggest further development of these criteria beyond their original binary meaning and propose meaningful ways in which these criteria can be integrated into policy decisions.

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The European Journal of Health Economics
Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management (ESHPM)

Stolk, E.A, & Poley, M.J. (2005). Criteria for determining a basic health services package: Recent developments in the Netherlands. The European Journal of Health Economics (Vol. 6, pp. 2–7). doi:10.1007/s10198-004-0271-0