Health Needs Assessment


What is a Health Needs Assessment?

A health needs assessment (HNA) is a systematic method of identifying unmet health and health care needs of a population and making changes to meet those unmet needs.  Health needs assessments are used to improve health, commissioning of healthcare and other service planning, policy making and priority setting - like in a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) that local authorities and CCGs have to produce.

Health needs assessments lead to agreed priorities and resource allocation that will improve health, planning of services and address health inequalities.  They also encourage partnership work and innovation and enable the target population to contribute.

Heath needs assessments are the back bone of public health work so it is important to know how to conduct them.  There are a number of ways to conduct a HNA including compartive and corporative but the most common approach is called 'epidemiologically based' where you combine epidemiology with cost effectiveness and effectiveness of interventions.  It is worth noting that the aim of a HNA is to aid decision making and to promote action so it is important that the emphasis is on what actions you are reccommended.  As a result, many public health teams have moved away from producing a book of work that sits on a shelf to powerpoint presentations or factsheets.  This helps them to influence decision makers and get public health action done. The following is my distilled version of a HNA.  Remember to add an executive summary and that a lot of decision makers are really busy so keep your HNA brief and to the point with your recommendations jumping out of the page. 

Sections of a Health Needs Assessment

  1. State your aim - why are you doing the HNA?
  2. Define the problem to be addressed in a defined population (and any sub-categories of the problem)
  3. Describe the size and nature of the problem - this is your epidemiology section covering who's affected, risk factors, health equalities etc.
  4. Describe the current services available to address this problem
  5. Synthesize and summarize the evidence from the literature on the interventions available (Literature review).
  6. Summarize your findings from stakeholders  - what are the viewpoints of the health professionals and others involved in providing services or interventions on this issue? (Usually this is in the form of a stakeholders workshop).
  7. Summarize your findings from users/patients - what do patients want and need? (This can be from focus groups). 
  8. Summarize cost-effective solutions and resource implications (economic appraisal)
  9. Recommendations for action 
  10. Identify the indicators and outcomes needed to evaluate change.

Further Reading