Caregiving first hand

2 Nov

Assumpció González Mestre

Assumpció González Mestre, Head of Programa Pacient Expert Catalunya® (Expert Patient Programme Catalonia®) and Cuidador Expert Catalunya® (Expert Caregiver Catalonia®) answers questions in an interview with Cari Almazán related to the figure of “expert caregiver”.

The programmes of Pacient Expert Catalunya® and Cuidador Expert Catalunya®, respectively, have the same aim of equipping people with the tools and resources to help them in their daily lives.

This type of learning programme among equals manages to improve the quality of life of people which find themselves in the environment of a disease in the context of chronicity in Catalonia, be it as patients, as caregivers or both things together.

Cari: Who is the Programa Cuidador Expert Catalunya® aimed at?

Assumpció: Our field of action is clearly orientated at the caregivers of people having chronic diseases. By “expert caregiver” we understand them to be a person who takes care of another person with a chronic disease having complex attention needs and who is able to take on that responsibility, give care and acquire the skills that help them manage the physical, emotional and social impact of giving care thereby improving their life quality and that of the person they are taking care of.

Cari: What does turning a caregiver into an expert caregiver involve?

Assumpció: When a person finds themselves in the situation of having to take on the task of taking care of another person with a disease, the life of that person is totally conditioned by the situations, planned or not, foreseen or unforeseen, which the disease might involve. Helping a person in that critical moment often generates a change in the life of the person giving care and it becomes an emotional overload in their daily lives as a result of having to address the needs of the person they are taking care of. In this sense, having more capacity to take on responsibility and being able to take care of themselves and of the other person, on the one hand, and of acquiring skills that help them manage the physical, emotional and social impact which we know this situation involves, on the other, are some of the key aspects that we would consider as essential when identifying a possible expert caregiver.

Cari: Is being able to improve the quality of life of caregivers the aim of the programme?

Assumpció: It is one of the main aims although there are others. Giving support to caregivers in the management and care of the person they are taking care of; improving the life of caregivers; being able to involve and satisfy patients and caregivers; improving the efficacy of caregivers in their own care and in the care of the person they are taking care of; learning to identify the degree of overload on caregivers; and having an influence on aspects of the health of a caregiver related to giving care, are the six specific aims of the Programa Cuidador Expert Catalunya®.

Cari: Should all caregivers become expert caregivers?

Assumpció: The end goal is not that everyone becomes an expert but rather that they become aware of what it means to be a caregiver and to learn to identify when they find themselves overloaded and that, therefore, they need to ask for help from another person of the family or from a professional to be able to deal with the situation which they find themselves in. If caregivers become aware of this situation and ask for support at the appropriate time, they will be able to give care and take care of themselves better. Therefore, the expert caregiver is a volunteer with the capacity to take care of themselves without psychophysical disabilities and who can empathise, be interested in helping, be highly motivated and have strong communicative skills. These elements are assessed in an individual interview and after completing specific questionnaires.

Cari: Perhaps it is not always easy to put oneself in someone else’s shoes…

Assumpció: One of the fundamental aspects of this initiative and one which makes it different is that the expert caregiver experiences caregiving first hand which places them in a privileged position when talking to other people who are going through similar experiences.

Cari: What role does the health professional play in relation to the expert caregiver?

Assumpció: The health professional (doctor, nurse or social worker) takes on the role of observer, who can step in to redirect the session, but only when necessary. The Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme helps both people to closely collaborate with each other having the same aim: to improve the quality of life of the patient, the caregiver and their environment.

Cari: What are the basics of the programme in terms of content and who developed them?

Assumpció: The specific educational materials and methodological guide are the result of the participation of a lot of expert health professionals from different disciplines. These contents have later been validated with the participation of caregivers. The idea is to get to people and so an appropriate language for everyone is needed.

Cari: How has the Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme been implemented?

Assumpció: The process of implementation in a care team involves different stages which include the presentation of the programme to professionals, the selection of caregivers, the training of professionals and caregivers, the setting up of the group of caregivers and the start of sessions.

Cari: In summary therefore… what it is about, in the end, is to organise sessions?

Assumpció: Not exactly. It is about sharing knowledge and experiences among caregivers through 9 structured sessions where they approach and deal with a different subject each day looking for the tools that aid them to take care of themselves.

Cari: How is the Cuidador Expert Catalunya® programme assessed?

Assumpció: It is assessed quantitatively and qualitatively by measuring the knowledge gained, the degree of self-care, quality of life, self-reported problems, the degree of overload, the degree of satisfaction and the use of services. The results between the start and end of the intervention are compared and then again 6 and 12 months after it has ended.

Cari: What is the key element of the project?

Assumpció: Without a shadow of a doubt, learning among equals and the relational network. Throughout the experience acquired during the implementation of the programme, we have had the opportunity to confirm that the fact that the programme takes place in one neighbourhood or community is very positive. The relational network between the people that participate in the different groups makes it possible for the expert caregiver to become an agent in the community. The programme becomes a community activity of learning among equals.


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The Sleeping Beauties of Science

26 Oct

Joan MV Pons

It appears not to have been Charles Perrault (1628-1703) who originally created this figure, later copied by the Grimm Brothers too, but that is no doubt quite a banal question for what we want to talk about here today.

Nevertheless, everybody knows the story: the princess, the spell which put her to sleep, the years and years which passed by and finally, the prince who woke her up with a kiss.

Sleeping Beauties is also said of those scientific articles which seem to go by unacknowledged until someone comes to their late rescue and gives them the recognition they deserve.

The article by Mendel of how the characteristics of the pea plant are passed down to its offspring can serve as an example. Even though the article was published in a scientific journal, in Germany I think it was, no one took any notice of it until years later when three researchers all at the same time gave him great credit for his work.

Recently, the press (El Periódico, El Mundo,, La Vanguardia) wrote about another case, that of the researcher from Alicante, Francis Mojica, who discovered repeated genetic sequences in the DNA of some microbes from a lagoon in Santa Pola 25 years ago.

The researcher called them CRISPR the acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”.

From that point on, other researchers have been able to derive the CRISPR/cas9 genetic editing technique which, they say, will transform biology and biomedicine.

This concept later got its own MeSH in the Pubmed/MEDLINE in 2014.

A late recognition after a period of, let’s call it somnolence, is not that strange in the world of science and a way of demonstrating this is by looking at the number of citations an article receives.

Needless to say this is made very apparent in a graph.

Example of a search in Pubmed/MEDLINE for “CRISPR” in open language that ranges from 1 item in 2002 to 2590 items in 2017, as of today’s date:

2002                                                                        2017

Number of citations received in Web of Science of the article in 1993:

Analysis of citations received in Web of Science in the period ranging 2009-2017 of articles by the author published in the period 2009-2017 having “CRISPR” in the title:

During their sleep, the Sleeping Beauties receive on average few citations, but once awoken, they receive a large number of citations in the following 4 years: an exciting awakening.

We find Sleeping Beauties in all fields of science, although in a systematic study of these, it is in the fields of physics, chemistry and mathematics that they predominate.

One of the facts that explain the awakening is that another discipline discovers it and then serves as an inspiration in its field, a little further away from or distanced from the original field where it appeared.

Post written by Joan MV Pons.

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Consulting the library from any place

19 Oct

Marta Millaret

Times change and sometimes we are not fully informed on the latest developments and facilities we have at our disposal. Nowadays, the staff at AQuAS can access the contents of the  Library of Health Sciences of Catalonia in a virtual manner which is very good news.

The library is a support tool for all researchers and technicians. Having access to available resources from any place is a step forward, leaving behind the model of being tied to an intranet to be able to access all the resources of the library.

Knowing that these tools exist and that they can be accessed from any place nowadays can be very useful at a particular time when researchers from AQuAS might need to use them.

We would like to present some interesting developments of the library:

Virtual Library of the Public Health System of Catalonia. It facilitates the access to the bibliographic services and resources of the Library of Health Sciences of Catalonia. Professionals that work in the general public health sector have access to the bibliographic resources that the Health Department subsidises for the entity they work for.

The professionals at AQuAS have the opportunity to register (with a user name provided by the institution) and can thus access all the bibliographic contents that are available from any physical location and device.

These available resources include e-magazines, e-books, bibliographic data bases, thematic bibliographies, the catalogue of the bibliographic funds in print of the Library, Scientia (digital information deposit of the Department of Health), collections of clinical practice guidebooks, of health legislation and health news, reference works, the press and electronic summaries.

You only need to register. By doing so, professionals at AQuAS can access a systematic review of the Cochrane Library, for example, or an article from the magazine Gaceta Sanitaria, an article from The Lancet or an article from the magazine Health Research Policy and Systems, all from any place.

Scientia. It is the institutional repository of the Department of Health. It was created with a view of storing and making the scientific production of the entities of the general public health sector of Catalonia openly accessible with the aim thereby of fostering accessibility, visibility, impact and recognition.

Presently, you can find publications from the Health Department, CatSalut and AQuAS, three of the entities which have already signed an agreement of participation.

The added value that this repository offers is the search and retrieval of results in three languages (Catalan, Spanish and English), a permanent URL of each publication, a standardised bibliographic citation and the impact index in social networks (Almetrics). The ORCID identification of each author is also included.

There are many ways you can stay informed of the latest developments which are published: by syndicating contents (RSS) available in the different sections of Scientia and from Twitter; by means of the hashtag #publicaDSalut or following the account of the library @bibliotecasalut.

One of the main aims of this tool is the safekeeping of the scientific production generated in the area of health and its effective dissemination.

An example of a search of studies and technical reports of the AQuAS in Scientia, by author:

Inquiro. It is what is known as a “discovery tool”, an intelligent tool which searches and explores within the contents of all the bibliographic, digital and printed resources available in the library stemming from a simple question using natural language.

The results that are obtained can be filtered by type of document, access (complete text or bibliographic citation), chronological period, subject and resource.

The most potent feature is that the results are obtained organised in order of relevance or by date. There is also the option of using an advanced search, and refining the search by fields, using Boolean operators (AND OR NOT).

Having a single gateway of access to all the bibliographic resources of the library, being able to explore the content of all these resources at the same time and filtering the contents organised in order of relevance is the major new development.

Example of a search for “indicators” with the results organised in order of relevance:

Example of a search for “inequalities” with the results ordered by date:

Ask us. This is the user services department and reference of the Library for Health Science of Catalonia. This tool is very practical to make a search and the answer is practically immediate. It is well worth knowing that this service exists!

That is all, for today. We are completely sure that all these tools are very useful and that they are the results of a concerted effort by the library to give answers to users, technicians and researchers that carry out research in our field.

Post written by Marta Millaret (@MartaMillaret) with the collaboration of Toni Parada and Pilar Roqué, head of the Library of Health Sciences of Catalonia (Biblioteca de Ciències de la Salut de Catalunya).

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Low value clinical practices from the citizenry’s perspective

13 Oct

During the fifth edition of the international Preventing Overdiagnosis Congress, strategies for implementing solutions to avoid overdiagnosis and overuse were addressed based on the available scientific evidence.

In this year’s edition, which was held in Barcelona last year, apart from the involvement of professionals and organisations, patients had the opportunity to actively participate.

Experiences in different healthcare areas were shown in the use of best practices to communicate and to empower patients to achieve a better understanding of shared decisions.

Different world initiatives addressed the best practices to empower citizens in subjects related to low value practices, overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Experiences were shared and a debate was initiated on fundamental subjects such as the communication and participation of patients.

In recent years, the Essencial Project has studied the perspective of health professionals on low value practices, their causes and possible solutions so as to avoid them.

Essencial Project team: Cari Almazán, Johanna Caro, Liliana Arroyo and Hortènsia Aguado

For example, in a previous post, we explained the results of a survey we carried out with professionals in the field of primary care. The results of this survey highlighted the need to involve and empower the population more. Patients are also important decision makers in relation to their needs and in the demand for certain health services. Hence, the project must be accompanied by a communications strategy aimed not only at patients but also at citizens in general.

That is why we, from the Essencial Project, have been interested in finding out the opinion of patients in addition to the perspective of professionals. In the international Preventing Overdiagnosis 2017 Congress we participated explaining how an exploratory first approach was made to identify the beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of patients regarding the most important elements in consultations, low value practices and the essential components of an effective dialogue between professionals and patients. The end purpose of this was to understand the position of people before initiating possible interventions in the citizenry and to determine the most effective communicative tools and channels.

In Catalonia, AQuAS carried out the first exploratory qualitative study at the end of 2016 using a focus group of parents and children assigned to a primary care team. Low value practices in paediatrics are frequently associated with an over-diagnosis regarding antibiotics, bronchodilatadors, antipyretics or imaging tests, among others. These scenarios have been transferred to the debate with patients themselves. In total, seven women, mothers and grandmother of 14 children participated.

The first point of discussion was the most important elements in a consultation with health professionals and it was found that the treatment (29%) and information received (28%) are the most important elements received by professionals (representing approximately 60% of those mentioned). The relationship with the professional comes next (15%, often related to the degree of trust), followed by the feeling that their wishes or needs are met (12%), information requested (9%) and the diagnosis (5%).

The participants did not know the concept of low value practice but did recognise situations of an excessive prescription of medication or the request of unnecessary tests, especially in emergency services and private consultations.

Regarding communication, the participants said they appreciated that professionals communicate in a simple and direct manner, explaining the reasons for decisions. Similarly, that they felt it was important to receive printed information from professionals which they could peruse later at home. They also said they would like more informative sessions or community groups where these types of subjects could be explained to them and so gain more knowledge about these types of practices.

In our context, this is the first exploratory study done to identify low value practices and the communicative strategies of the citizenry, being the start of a series of studies on the population. Nonetheless, one of the limitations with which we find ourselves was that the participation was lower than expected. Although the term ‘low value practices’ is not known, participants identify situations in which they have experienced them.

Similarly, it is important to underline how patients value the treatment and information received as well as the professional-patient relationship. In the same way, patients recognise the need for a professional’s communication skills and the need for tools to support an effective communicative exchange.

Post written by Johanna Caro Mendivelso (@jmcaro103).

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The speed and relevance of assessing health products

5 Oct

Emmanuel Giménez

The European market of health products has been widely affected by the sudden emergence of a new legislative framework with the new regulations (2017/745 and 2017/746). The subtle difference between directive and regulation is paramount, they say, but we’ll leave that for another occasion. This new framework in the field of health products is characterised among other things by:

  1. A stricter control of high risk health products (for example, certain implantable products)
  2. The strengthening of rules of clinical evidence by including a coordinated procedure at a European level for the authorisation of multicentre clinical research.
  3. The reinforcement of requirements and the coordination between European countries regarding controls and after sales aspects.

In this context of important changes, the assessment community is also clearly active. Thus, on 19 June this year, there was a panel on health products at the international meeting of Health Technology Assessment HTAi, where a new and innovative Italian programme for health products was presented.

The programme, explaining the work carried out over several years in terms of definition and its pilot phase, includes three work packages: appraisal, methodology and monitoring. In another panel closely related to the previous one, in the field of methodology, the presentation of the categories to decide on what to invest in and what to disinvest win clearly stood out.

When talking about monitoring and collecting information, an example that stood out was the debate on the need for early assessments given that the life cycle of a health product tends to be short.

The significant increase in new products available and all the work objects previously mentioned are some of the things that position the importance of specific assessment in health products.

The importance of the assessment of health products is, therefore, undeniable. In the joint production work package of EUnetHTA JA3, in which AQuAS is participating, as many or more assessments of “other technologies” (health products, health interventions,…) have been planned as of the known assessments of drugs. In a sense, the numbers of one or other necessity are matched. The importance of the assessment of “other technologies” was in fact reflected in the HTAi annual meeting in a presentation by Wim Goettsch, director of EUnetHA.

The identification and prioritisation of products to be assessed (the Horizon Scanning system), as well as the balance between innovation and divestment, are also extensively discussed subjects and under continuous debate. Thus, in the REDETS network (in which the AQuAS is also actively participating) and with the leadership of Avalia-T, a public access tool was identified that helps in approaching this subject: the PriTec.

Assessment, therefore, can help directly in the use, management and sustainability of different health systems. In conclusion, new opportunities are provided for improving decision making in the area of health products and some of them will come through demonstrating efficiency by means of the adequate use and definition of health technology assessments (HTA).

Post written by Emmanuel Giménez.

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The DECIPHER Project: from the interoperability to the procurement of innovation

8 Jun

Jean Patrick Mathieu

In 2013 when Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries (AQuAS) relaunched the project DECIPHER (@DECIPHERpcpEU), we were pioneering in the field of Procurement of Innovation and little did we know on the journey ahead. The project proved to be a big challenge for the AQuAS, the Catalan Department of Health and the all consortium involved.

The European Commission Officers and the projects evaluators would also be faced with a new type of project and with the projects consortium and stakeholders, we all learned a lot in this exciting adventure.

The journey would end in March 2017 with the Barcelona final event, but the aftermath of the projects will definitely be felt in the years to come.

Rossana Alessandrello at the DECIPHER – FINAL EVENT (Barcelona 2017)

DECIPHER was a project funded by the European Commission under the 7th  Framework Programme (FP7) under a call for project in 2011 whose topic was “Patient Guidance Services (PGS), safety and healthcare record information reuse”.

The objective of the project was to enable secure cross-border mobile access to existing patient healthcare portals which are individually supported by public bodies.

DECIPHER would deploy Pre-commercial Procurement (PCP) to create step-change innovations in mobile patient ICTs. Using electronic patient records as the key enabling technology, this joint PCP would create technology-led service transformation in cross-border mobile healthcare, delivering qualitative and significant benefits to patients and healthcare organisations.

The Consortium consisted of ESTAR Centro (Tuscany), TicSalut (Catalonia) and CMFT (Manchester).  Suppliers will be challenged to build on outputs from epSOS, CALLIOPE, and LOD2, and advances in mobile technology. Moreover, experts from Greece, France, Finland, UK, Sweden and Ireland will provide support.

DECIPHER will generate a portfolio of interoperable applications, deployed on a pan-European platform. This resource will improve existing healthcare services by supporting mobility of patients and healthcare providers.

As a use-case scenario, the solutions were to focus on patients with a chronic health condition and Diabetes type II was selected.

From anywhere in the European Union, a patient will be able to use a secure mobile device safely to gain 24/7 access to their prescription data, emergency data, examination results and other health information.

By the end of the project, 6 prototypes solutions were funded of which 3 finalists received full funding to develop a full final version. Although the respective national Personal Health Records (PHRs) systems of the three procuring authorities are not able to implement those solutions in their current state, the achievements are important for DECIPHER:

  1. Invaluable experiences were gathered by all stakeholders involved in the project
  2. SMEs from all over Europe came under the radar of potential clients, the public procuring authorities in the consortium and those who were interested on the project
  3. AQuAS acquired an expertise in procurement of innovation that is now well-renowned in Europe and beyond.
  4. The lessons learned will be applied in the new PCP project coordinated by AQuAs, Antisuperbugs.

DECIPHER project was initially designed to address the interoperability issue in the healthcare sector. But, this project has been fundamental in the development of a model of procurement of innovation useful for the set-up of this kind of project. With this objective in Catalonia, we consider DECIPHER as a case use where AQuAS lead the path with a set of toolkit, methodology and expertise.

Post written by Jean Patrick Mathieu.

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We take shared decisions here

1 Jun

Víctor Montori

I was recently in Barcelona talking to a group of people interested in the taking of shared decisions (#decisionescompartidas) at a seminar organised by the Catalan Society for Health Management (SCGS) and the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS). My visit was the third stop on a trip which first took me to Poland and later The Netherlands. There is a very strong interest in the subject of shared decisions in all three countries and in all three there are efforts at different levels to promote this practice.

What motivates this interest is also something shared: the feeling that the involvement of patients in important decisions must inevitably reduce costs and improve clinical outcomes. It is also a general phenomenon that doctors feel cornered by this new expectation adding to their already existing agendas that compete for the meagre 7 minutes per patient.

In light of this reality, the promises to take shared decisions that better reflect the situation of a patient and how to deal with it, based on the informed participation of the patient, end up putting the onus on the patient of taking decisions by means of tools in web pages or on printed forms. But what about sharing the process of taking decisions? Corporate poetry, an academic dream.

Taking shared decisions requires patients and clinicians to work together so as to mutually agree on the best way to proceed in order to improve the patient’s situation. The outcome of this effort is a plan of care. To establish this plan it is important to understand what the situation of the patient is and what action is needed, as well as the options available to respond to the demands that the situation dictates in the best way.

The conclusion reached must make sense, intellectually, emotionally and practically. That is, the plan must reflect the best medical science, it has to be agreeable within the biological and biographical circumstances of the patient and be able to be implemented with the least possible inconvenience in the life of the patient. This work is not for the patient to do, nor the clinician, but for both. It is challenging and is based on a clinician-patient relationship, and it takes time.

Many clinicians tell me that they already take decisions together with their patients. This is not evident when we watch videos of clinical encounters in North America (15-30 minutes in length). In these, we see clinicians interrupting patients after less than 11 seconds from the time a patient begins talking, using humour to avoid emotional situations and offering recommendations before listening to the patient’s point of view.

Victor M.Montori in the Shared Decisions Conference (SCGS and AQuAS). Barcelona, 19 May 2017

The fact that patients want to participate or that they do in fact participate actively in the taking of decisions is not evident either and yet, patients report high levels of satisfaction in the way that decisions are taken. However, a critical look reveals that many decisions are taken without patients realising it, given that these decisions are disguised as the logical steps to follow in managing a problem rather than being opportunities for the patient to contribute in the process with their opinion, point of view, experience and knowledge.

The effort of converting the taking of shared decisions from what it is (a unicorn) to what it should be (something routine in the care of patients) is enormous and full of uncertainty. There is no country, in my opinion, nor any health system which is at the forefront on this subject. At the tail end, there are of course countless systems that are still hugely in debt with their populations for not yet having been able to guarantee universal access to health with minimum levels of quality and safety.

What those at the forefront need to do, in my opinion, has more to do with attitude and opportunity than with tools or incentive and training programmes. The latter must be there when attitude and opportunity appear.

In my visit to Barcelona I saw great willingness, but with noticeable limitations in attitude and opportunity. In attitude, as health professionals we need to value what patients know about their context, about their biology and biography and about the way in which they want to lead their lives.

We must acknowledge how essential it is that treatment plans make sense and that it is possible to implement them in the lives of patients, especially in the case of chronic patients. And we must be aware that practical guides and other management tools for management are useful to guide our treatment of “patients like these” but are not enough to determine the treatment for “this patient”.

But attitude is not enough. In addition, we need to work at creating opportunities for conversation between clinicians and patients and that these become therapeutic relationships. I believe that our intellect has evolved in the taking of decisions with others. In the same way that I believe in deliberative democracy for social problems, I believe in taking shared decisions for clinical problems.

Clinical problems are not simple (such as in the problem of baking biscuits, with a known recipe and ingredients and an expected result), they are not complicated problems (like flying a 747, with algorithms and feedback that lets one be confident of achieving the desired result) but they are complex problems (like raising a child, with known ingredients, without a recipe or algorithms and with sometimes unexpected results).

Complex problems cannot be solved by technical investments only. These are solved within human relations. Specific results cannot be expected, but one can respond to adverse situations with resilience. Without the fuel of opportunity for this, the flame of a favourable attitude in the taking of shared decisions will be extinguished in the end.

The taking of shared decisions needs human relations between clinician and patient to resolve the human problems of the patient with resilience. In turn, the solution of these problems requires decisions to be shared for the solution to make intellectual, emotional and practical sense in the life of the patient.

Besides attitude and opportunity, it is important to have interpersonal skills (or train up to acquire whatever is possible) so as to communicate with a patient with empathy, to understand their situation and to assess each reasonable option in the context of a conversation.

In this context, tools based on evidence designed specifically to support these conversations can be useful and can facilitate the efficient taking of shared decisions in any context, from emergencies to specialised care.

I am aware that many have found the motivation to participate in taking shared decisions thanks to training or the use of tools for taking shared decisions. This makes it important to understand what is necessary and where so that taking shared decisions becomes routine practice in the care of patients.

But what does all this effort achieve? Many colleagues say that the taking of shared decisions can improve clinical outcomes, the adherence to treatments, the use of services and the costs of care. Taking shared decisions might also help in preventing global warming.

My critical appraisal of the evidence available does not allow me to discern any of these benefits with a sufficient level of certainty. This forces us to consider why we must thus make the effort to create the conditions to be able to take shared decisions and to implement this as routine practice.

For me, as a clinician, the answer comes by means of understanding the aim of a treatment, of clinical care as well as by allowing each patient to fulfil their dreams with the least pathological interruption and the least therapeutic inconvenience possible. To achieve this, we need to design treatments that respond to a patient’s situation – seen in high definition – treatments that make sense for the patient, and a clinician cannot do this without the patient.

Post written by Victor M. Montori (@vmontori), Professor of Medicine at the Clínica Mayo (United States), KER Unit,

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Socioeconomic inequalities in health: some thoughts on the results of the first analysis done with individual data from the entire Catalan population

11 May

Guillem López Casasnovas, Anna García-Altés

The  Catalan Health System Observatory has recently published a report on the effects of the crisis on the health of the population. Together with this one, the Observatory has now published three reports and a monographic.

The real novelty about this year’s report is that it is the first time that the socioeconomic inequalities in the state of health and the use of public health services have been analysed according to the socioeconomic level of the population using information of individuals of the entire population of Catalonia. To this end, a classification has been designed which takes both the employment situation and income of the person into consideration, based on the information of the social security benefits provided by the Social Security system and the information of the level of co-payment of medicines of people.

What reflections can we make?

The economic crisis of recent years has had a considerable impact on the social determinants of health, limiting the available income of citizens and affecting their conditions of life, work and housing. However, understanding the mechanisms of how social inequalities impact on the health of the population, so as to know how to combat and neutralise them in the most effective way, in every place and moment in time, is still an unresolved issue of our social policies.

Merely acknowledging the effects of the crisis on inequalities in income on the one hand, and on health on the other, gives no clear clues as to how elements arise and interact. Who could possibly think that the main cause of inequalities in health is a consequence of the effects of cuts in health expenditure in order to balance the drop in tax revenue? Or that the increase inequality would be eliminated by simply restoring financial levels to those of before the crisis?

It is true that some European health systems resisted better than others to the crisis and among the factors that could explain this better response is, according to some authors, public policies in health expenditure. Nevertheless, are we talking about the resilience in levels of expenditure or of systems that have been able to respond better to the crisis by refocusing available resources in each case, having accepted that a higher expenditure in health is not always better and that now, more than ever, it has been necessary to prioritise?

Are we then saying that it is inertia, or the incapacity of adapting to changing economic circumstances which is the decisive element? Is it perhaps not more likely that spending “a fixed amount” when facing a reduction in healthcare resources not only worsens the health of the population but makes it less equal? Are factors of demand decisive if higher unemployment rates, lower expectations of consumption, unpaid commitments made senselessly in the past and anxiety and the loss of self-esteem the important vectors?

To prevent more inequality, and not only a greater loss of health, we need to take on board some hypotheses about the behaviour of demand, resulting from of the elasticities between price and income to be able to identify an increase in inequalities in health as a result of the economic crisis.

This might not occur, however, if the system lost universality, were more selective and better prioritised the new and greater relative needs of certain social groups. Or if in the case where elasticity of income existed, groups with medium/high incomes abandoned the complementary insurances which would in turn affect their health.

We can see that these cannot be unusual assumptions for some, because they would follow the same logic as that of many analysts that link health results to healthcare use (but not to appropriately standardised needs), attributing higher levels of health to the users of the services that combine access to both public and private healthcare services.

Other forms of social protection, such as those that would ensure adequate levels of public health expenditure, avoiding loopholes in health coverage, both legal and of cost of opportunity of access to free services, should be considered in a much more specific way. This can affect freelance and self-employed workers, illegal immigrants and regular employees who avoid absenteeism for fear of losing their jobs, and also those citizens that have lower levels of direct payment to cover the costs of alternative private healthcare services

In fact, in general, a change in inequality of income due to an additional increase in unemployment (in the case of Spain) is not the same reaction mechanism as that of an increase in the incomes of the richest with respect to the poorest (as in the case of Nordic countries), or in contexts in which the loss of employment reduces stress and facilitates “jogging” as some American literature points out.

Admittedly, all this must be put within the context of each situation, given the lifestyles, and not assessing income but wealth (the composition of assets here is important considering the huge drop in the prices of assets, with greater effects in large estates), be it by individual, salary earner or head of family.

What is more, even if the mechanisms that interact in health inequalities of socioeconomic origin can be identified, caution obliges one to limit conclusion to a specific country, time and place, with doubts about whether what is known of the past can inform the corrections needed in the future with guarantees.

Reviewing the literature on the impact of the economic crises on the health of populations, prior to the 2008 crisis, and considering all the previous clarifications and nuances, it all points towards an increase in the death rate as a result of all the causes associated with unemployment, of an increase in suicides, albeit with certain nuances, and of an increase in mental health problems. The people most affected by the effects of the crisis are those belonging to the most vulnerable groups (in particular, people of long term unemployment) and children.

In Spain, some global indicators such as life expectancy or the general death rate do not seem to have been affected by the recent economic crisis although there is evidence of the effects of the crisis on health determinants, changes in some lifestyles and in some cases of access to healthcare services.

Beyond the limitations that the data impose, ceteris paribus, in the future it will be very important to monitor the different waves of analysis that the Observatory might offer, so as to understand what vectors provoke variations in the inequalities observed, and inasmuch as these are relevant in the political approach (as the pioneering work of John Roemer reminds us, not all inequalities are in fact precisely that), and how to approach them based on the understanding of how their fundamental mechanisms work.

This emphasises the importance of how an analysis should generate more efforts from scholars and less of a supposed preoccupation of some groups who make political use of the subject of socioeconomic inequalities and health to set their own objectives which do not always correspond to general interests.

Post written by Anna García-Altés (@annagaal) and Guillem López Casasnovas.


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An indicator for a more fairly funded primary care

7 Apr

Cristina Colls

The Catalan government has recently expressed its willingness to increase the importance ascribed to the socio-economic level of regions when calculating the budget for each primary care team.

This fact invites us to ask ourselves a question: why is it important to bear in mind the economic inequality in the funding of primary care teams?

The influence of socio-economic inequalities on the health of the population is a fact that has been widely studied since the 60s of last century and of which there is evidence both in the international and national context.

We know that people with a lower socio-economic status have more probability of dying before the age of 65 and that they show more physical and mental health problems during their lives. It is logical, therefore, to conclude that they need to make a more intensive use of health resources.

We also know that social inequality is a recipe for an unbalanced distribution of the population in a territory leading to an accumulation of the most serious social problems in specific municipalities or neighbourhoods that have a greater need for social and healthcare than other regions.

It is in this context that more needs to be done where there is greater necessity if equity in the allocation of resources is to be guaranteed. But where should more resources be provided?

The professionals of primary care teams are those closest to the citizen and therefore, have a comprehensive view of the health needs of the population in their territory.

In addition, the primary environment is the reference in prevention activities, in controlling chronic diseases and from which a large part of community activity is coordinated. For all these reasons, the provision for primary care teams must bear in mind the socio-economic conditions of the population they serve.

How can we find out what the socio-economic situation is of territories in which a primary care primary care team works? Many variables exist which give us indirect information (income, occupation, education, housing conditions, among others) but if we are looking for only one classification we need a unique index that synthesises all these aspects; it is what we call a deprivation index.

Deprivation indexes have been widely used as a tool in social policies because they allow an objective prioritisation to be established in small regions, ranging from a low to high socio-economic status. The concept of “deprivation” refers to unmet needs as a result of a lack of resources, not exclusively economic.

All indexes of deprivation are built by adding up the results of different socio-economic status indicators. The weight given to each indicator could be theoretical, that is, based on what a particular indicator is thought to contribute to the phenomenon of deprivation; or otherwise, the result of a multivariate statistical model.

To be able to classify the basic areas of health (reference territories of a primary care team) according to their socio-economic level, AQuAS has built an index called a composite socio-economic status indicator which synthesises seven indicators: population exempt from drug co-payment, population with incomes lower than 18,000€, population with incomes higher than 100,000€, population with manual jobs, population with insufficient educational attainment, premature deaths or potentially avoidable hospitalisations.

The statistical methodology used for calculating this indicator has been that of principal component analysis. The application of this methodology has allowed us to obtain a socio-economic status map of Catalonia.

The application of the composite socio-economic status indicator has been done within the framework of the redefinition of the model of allocation of resources for primary care and has enabled the identification of those primary care teams which will increase their budgets in coming years.

This new model of allocating resources for primary care is an experience in applying scientific evidence to political action.

Post written by Cristina Colls.

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PERIS and people: AQuAS Research Assessment

30 Mar

The first call of the Strategic Plan for Research and Innovation in Health 2016-2020 (PERIS in Catalan) for funding research and innovation, still pending resolution, prioritizes programmes which foster talent and employability and programmes of excellence in knowledge.

Accordingly, four actions have been initiated by competitive tendering to finance:

  1. The inclusion of scientists and technicians in national research groups
  2. The increase of nursing professionals in order to free up some of their workday so they can do research work
  3. Research projects aimed at primary care
  4. Major programmes focusing on four different subjects: personalised medicine, regenerative medicine, cooperative independent clinical research and cohort studies.

How are the PERIS calls assessed to determine which applications deserve funding?

The criteria for assessment are defined by the order of the requirements, forgive the repetition, and the requirements of each call. This is the instrument that sets out the rules to determine which projects or people are susceptible to receiving finance. Some will always be discarded and, depending on the specific criteria and resources available, others chosen which are considered worthy of funding.

Deciding which criteria to use and how they are assessed/rated/applied is a powerful science policymaking tool to design the research system it aspires to be: excellence, the subject, the discipline, the age of the applicants, the territoriality of the organisations or foreseeable impact are different variables to bear in mind when deciding who is worthy of being able to develop their research.

The Research Team at AQuAS has been commissioned to manage this process of assessment. This is why we accompanied the General Manager for Research and Innovation of the Health Department, Dr Andreu, in the public presentations he gave in different health research institutions linked to hospitals. We were impressed by the attendance at these informative sessions.

The assessment has been done by a panel of experts involving a total of 42 research professionals throughout Catalonia and Spain. It has required intense activity given that more than 490 applications of a very high level were received.

Looking back after having completed the assessment of the this first call, we feel, more than ever, that we made the right decision by putting people in the centre of the PERIS logo, large and circled by a prominent colour.

It is not only the plan itself which has been designed like this, to promote research with people at its centre, involving and motivating a great variety of professional profiles. PERIS has been a catalyst for mobilisation in the health system and in health research, even before the starting gun was fired, as seen in the packed informative presentations and in the involvement of the participants in the assessment panels, working deep into the night.

As can be expected, getting the staff at the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS) involved, has not been difficult either. We are eager to contribute to this strategic project by using a key tool for selection, accountability, continuous analysis and improvement of opportunities which is what assessment is all about.

Long life to PERIS!

Post written by Núria Radó (@nuriarado) and Paula Adam (@PaulaAdam4).

***Full information available here:

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