Formal priority setting in health care: the Swedish experience

Peter Garpenby (Department of Medical and Health Sciences, National Centre for Priority Setting in Health Care, Linköping University , Linköping, Sweden)
Karin Bäckman (Department of Medical and Health Sciences, National Centre for Priority Setting in Health Care, Linköping University , Linköping, Sweden)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Publication date: 19 September 2016



From the late 1980s and onwards health care in Sweden has come under increasing financial pressure, forcing policy makers to consider restrictions. The purpose of this paper is to review experiences and to establish lessons of formal priority setting in four Swedish regional health authorities during the period 2003-2012.


This paper draws on a variety of sources, and evidence is organised according to three broad aspects: design and implementation of models and processes, application of evidence and decision analysis tools and decision making and implementation of decisions.


The processes accounted for here have resulted in useful experiences concerning technical arrangements as well as political and public strategies. All four sites used a particular model for priority setting that combined top-down- and bottom-up-driven elements. Although the process was authorised from the top it was clearly bottom-up driven and the template followed a professional rationale. New meeting grounds were introduced between politicians and clinical leaders. Overall a limited group of stakeholders were involved. By defusing political conflicts the likelihood that clinical leaders would regard this undertaking as important increased.


One tendency today is to unburden regional authorities of the hard decisions by introducing arrangements at national level. This study suggests that regional health authorities, in spite of being politically governed organisations, have the potential to execute a formal priority-setting process. Still, to make priority-setting processes more robust to internal as well as external threat remains a challenge.



Garpenby, P. and Bäckman, K. (2016), "Formal priority setting in health care: the Swedish experience", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 891-907.

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