Health Care Analysis

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 22–35 | Cite as

From Needs to Health Care Needs

  • Erik Gustavsson
Original Article


One generally considered plausible way to allocate resources in health care is according to people’s needs. In this paper I focus on a somewhat overlooked issue, that is the conceptual structure of health care needs. It is argued that what conceptual understanding of needs one has is decisive in the assessment of what qualifies as a health care need and what does not. The aim for this paper is a clarification of the concept of health care need with a starting point in the general philosophical discussion about needs. I outline three approaches to the concept of need and argue that they all share the same conceptual underpinnings. The concept of need is then analyzed in terms of a subject x needing some object y in order to achieve some goal z. I then discuss the relevant features of the object y and the goal z which make a given need qualify as a health care need and not just a need for anything.


Harm Health Health care Health care need Need Priority-setting Rationing Well-being 



Instrumental need


Categorical need


Dispositional need



For helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper I would like to thank Niklas Juth, Lennart Nordenfelt, Ingemar Nordin, Lars Sandman and Stellan Welin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Health and Society, Department of Medical and Health SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.The National Center for Priority Setting in Health Care, Department of Medical and Health SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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