The use of health targets as a tool in health policy is receiving more attention. Beyond political will and daring, there awaits the challenge of the fruitful use of health targets. This means an adequate response to the complexity of population health in a target structure that is transparent, controllable, and adaptable in changing circumstances. In this article, we will review the health policy development cycle in relation to health target setting. First, there should be understanding of the problem, and a clear picture of the health status of the population. Then a solution can be chosen. This part is not restricted to the technical side of the solution, i.e. the target setting and action planning. It also has a political side in which responsibility is taken for the choices made. In the next step, the chosen solutions are implemented by government and stakeholders. This will be followed by a monitoring and evaluation phase, which will in turn provide us with an insight into the health status of the population. At every stage of the health policy cycle, questions which should be addressed when using health targets in health policy will be discussed. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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