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BMJ Open. 2019 May 27;9(5):e026764. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026764.

Scanning the horizon: a systematic literature review of methodologies.

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Scientific Committees Regulatory Science Strategy, European Medicines Agency, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
UNU-MERIT, United Nations University-Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Department of International Health, Faculty ofHealth, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHLM), Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, University of Bath, Bath, UK.



Society is confronted with the rapid emergence of innovation in science and technology. To manage this, horizon scanning is being adopted globally to identify, assess and prioritise innovations and trends at an early stage of their development. This enables decision-makers to be better informed and to prepare for change. The aim of this paper is to systematically identify and evaluate horizon scanning methodologies employed in the healthcare and biomedical fields.


A systematic literature review was performed using PubMed and Embase and was supplemented with grey literature searches (2008-2018). The principal methodologies used in horizon scanning were extracted.


Approximately 100 articles were summarised in a literature map. The search revealed many examples of horizon scanning across disciplines. Challenges, such as the need to refine prioritisation criteria, manage uncertainty inherent in the findings and improve the dissemination of identified issues, have been highlighted.


Horizon scanning, when performed appropriately, is a flexible and potentially reliable tool, with a wide variety of methods. Horizon scanning can inform and influence decision-making, through identifying opportunities and challenges, from an organisational to an international level. Further research to identify the most effective methodologies available would add depth to this landscape and enable the evolution of best practice to most efficiently anticipate novel developments and innovations.


public health; qualitative research

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Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: None declared.

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