Analysis of research data in health: opportunities within reach

9 Feb
Xavier Serra-Picamal

Xavier Serra-Picamal

The generation and storage of data is omnipresent nowadays. The costs have fallen drastically and the health sector is not alien to this. To illustrate this, it is worth having a look at the following graph created by the National Institutes of Health about the human genome, which shows the evolution of the cost of sequencing a genome:Cost per genome

As can be seen, since 2007, the cost of sequencing a genome has fallen dramatically. Having one’s own genome sequenced is now possible and in the future it may become commonplace. Bearing in mind that a copy of the human genome is made up of aproximately 3 million base pairs (3 million adeninines, thymines, citosines or guanines arranged sequentially in 23 chromosomes ) it is easy to infer that, also within this field, the quantity of data generated in the coming years will be massive.

This tendency is repeated in other areas of health care: among other, clinical history data in electronic format, medical imaging, primary care data or that of drug consumption are obtained and stored in registries, in general, structured and interlinked. The potential of this data for carrying out research in order to provide better health care is notable, in the way of faster and more accurate diagnoses, improved therapeutic approaches and a better management of the system.

To analyse the challenges and opportunities at a European level, a work session organised by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission was held in Luxembourg with representatives from AQuAS. The points discussed have been gathered in the article Making sense of big data in health research: Towards an EU action plan, published in the Genome Medicine magazine and of open access. As explained in the article, using this information to provide better healthcare is a challenge but a great opportunity at the same time.

Making sense of big data in health research

Nevertheless, a big effort is required to transform this data into knowledge and specific actions. However much the costs of generating and storing data may drop, the management of information, its interpretation, and the generation of knowledge needs considerable investment and resources. This means having adequate information systems as well as the economic and human resources so that the data can be treated efficiently and the protection of individual rights guaranteed. In addition, the participation, commitment and effective communication of all the agents of the system is needed (including the scientific community, patients, citizens, the administration, and so on) to guarantee that this data is used efficiently, responsibly and that it promotes research which is efficient and of quality.

Catalonia, because of the size of its population, the fact that it has an integrated health system and the work done over many years, is well positioned to be able promote the reuse of health data for research. At an international level, some comparable projects exist and new projects exist with the goal of integrating and consolidating data from different sources, with some very ambitious and attractive programmes. The  PADRIS Programme, presented last 12 January, aims to centralise and make the data generated in health available to researchers in research centres in Catalonia and universities so as to provide better healthcare with a maximum guarantee in security and privacy. The work to be done is considerable. The resources needed too. The opportunities to provide better research and better healthcare are within reach.

Post written by Xavier Serra-Picamal, researcher at the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).

* TERMCAT (the centre for terminology in the Catalan language) has recently dealt with the question of how to say data scientist in Catalan. The subject is very much a current issue!

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Adjusted morbidity groups: a new population morbidity classifier

2 Feb
Foto Emili Vela

Emili Vela

At present, chronic pathologies have become a challenge for health systems in developed countries. The majority of sick people that use health services have multiple morbidity and this increases with age. The presence of multiple morbidity is associated with a greater use of resources for care (both health and social) and a lower quality of life.

In this context, it is necessary to measure multiple morbidity to be able to determine its impact. There are two large sets of measurements of multiple morbidity: on the one hand, a simple count of the diseases (usually chronic) of each person and, on the other, indexes which indicate the burden of an individual’s diseases based on the ranking of pathologies giving each one a differential weighting drawn from clinical criteria provided by groups of experts and/or statistical analysis based on mortality or the utilisation of health services.

The Adjusted Morbidity Groups (AMG) are encompassed in this last group, the only one of these tools developed in Europe on the basis of a public health system, universal in nature and eminently free.

Los grupos de morbilidad ajustados

The characteristics and functioning of the AMG can be found in this article. In a nutshell, we can say that the AMG have been validated statistically, by analysing their explanatory and predictive capacity. In this validation, the AMG have shown better results than other tools in the majority of indicators studied, including those relative to social and health care.

Concordancia y utilidad sistema estratificación

They have also been validated clinically by primary care doctors, both in Catalonia and in the Community of Madrid. The main results of these validations are that the AMG show a good classification of the patient in terms of risk, that this good classification increases with the complexity of the patient, the preference of clinicians for this tool with respect to other tools to classify morbidity and finally, that it is a useful tool for assigning a level of intervention in accordance with the needs of patients.

From 2012, the AMG were developed in the framework of an agreement of collaboration between CatSalut and Catalan Health Institute. Subsequently, they have been implemented at a national level in 13 autonomous communities thanks to an agreement reached between CatSalut and the Ministry of Health, Social and Equality Services. As a result of the implementations done during 2015, 38 million people of the Spanish population have been classified. The final goal of this agreement is to jointly develop a tool to stratify the population and which could be applicable to the entire National Health System by means of adapting the AMG.

Proposals enhanced health risk

Similarly, the AMG are being used in several European projects concerning the stratification and integration of health and social care.

In summary, we can assert that the AMG are a new classifier of morbidity which shows comparable results -at the very least- to those provided by other classifiers on the market. On the other hand, having been developed using the information from our health system (universal and eminently free), it can not only be adapted to new requirements or strategies of our organisations, but also to other health systems as well as to specific areas or populations. Evidence of this last point is that at the moment, together with the Master Plan of Mental Health and Addictions of the Health Department, a specific classifier is being developed for patients with mental health and addiction problems.

Post written by David Monterde (Oficina d’Estadística. Sistemes d’Informació. Institut Català de la Salut), Emili Vela (Àrea d’Atenció Sanitària. Servei Català de la Salut) and Montse Clèries (Àrea d’Atenció Sanitària. Servei Català de la Salut).

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Health literacy, a need

26 Jan
Mercè Piqueras 2016

Mercè Piqueras

Traditionally, knowledge in medicine was considered an exclusive domain of medical professionals. Patients were passive subjects that listened to a diagnosis while hardly understanding it and followed, or not, the instructions they were given by the doctor. Nowadays, an attempt is made to provide patients with enough basic medical knowledge to allow them to interact with the doctor, take decisions about their health and avoid making mistakes that could have serious repercussions.

One of the subjects discussed at the 2016 European Health Forum Gastein (this Forum is an annual gathering organised by the European Commission in Bad Hofgastein, Austria, to discuss subjects related to health which affect European countries) was health literacy or, otherwise known as, the ability to access the relevant information for one’s own health or that of society and to be able to understand and assess it. It refers to the understanding of what the doctor tells the patient and the information contained in the patient information leaflets that accompany drugs. It also refers to the ability of identifying whether the information on health in the media is reliable, understanding the information on food labels and also participating in activities which improve health and well-being.

The first European Health Literacy Survey (HLS-EU) was carried out in the summer of 2011. Eight states from the EU took part and the questionnaire centred around three aspects (health care, disease prevention and health promotion) and in four of the phases in processing and informing (access, understanding, assessment and application).

 

Health Literacy

While in the Netherlands 70% of the population have sufficient or excellent knowledge, in Spain, this percentage is 41,7% and it is the area with the highest percentage of problematic situations (50,08%).

Similar studies done in the United States indicate that a lack of health literacy carries risks, puts the breaks on the self-management of an illness and increases medical visits and hospital admissions and therefore, the expenditure on health.

Health literacy is not parallel to the degree of literacy in general. For example, the consumption of homeopathic products, the resistance to vaccination, or the belief that transgenic products are harmful for one’s health are widespread attitudes in some well-educated sectors with a high cultural baggage but which have a mistaken or biased knowledge of certain subjects on health. Unfortunately, these people believe they are well informed and are probably the population group where it will be most difficult to eradicate this type of illiteracy.

Post written by Mercè Piqueras (@lectoracorrent), biologist, science writer, science editor and translator, president of the Catalan Association for Science Communication in the period 2006-2011.

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What are the SISCAT atlas of variations all about?

19 Jan
atles-variacions-siscat

Laura Muñoz (Atlas of variations SISCAT), Laia Domingo (RaCat), Olga Martínez (RaCat)

At present, if you live in the region of Terres de l’Ebre and need to be operated on to have a knee replacement, it is quite probable that the type of technique used is one which preserves the posterior cruciate ligament. On the other hand, if you go and live in Girona, the chances of having the same kind of knee replacement will be a lot less, but in contrast, the type of technique chosen will be that of stabilising the posterior.

 

If you live in Girona and have respiratory difficulties susceptible for home-based CPAP treatment (continuous positive airway pressure), you will more likely be prescribed this therapy than if you live in Lleida or the Terres de l’Ebre. If you live in Lleida, in contrast, there is more probability of you being prescribed oxygen therapy at home than if you live in the Terres de l’Ebre region and suffer from some kind of respiratory disease that could benefit from this treatment. And if you live in the coastal neighbourhoods of Barcelona you will more likely be prescribed mechanical ventilation at home than if you live in a neighbourhood situated further inland for those respiratory ventilation disorders that might need this technique.

Why does this happen? There is no evidence to suggest which type of intervention is most suitable and it is simply the fact that the health professionals of one region are more inclined than those of another to choose one technique over another. This variability reveals the existence of schools linked to certain hospital centres that condition the choice of the type of intervention or technique used.

This is the type of information that the Atlas of variations in clinical practice of the Catalan Healthcare System (SISCAT) make available to health professionals and the entire population, and which has been led and developed by AQuAS since 2011.

The aim of these atlases is to identify, describe and reduce the variability that can lead to increased well-being, quality and an improvement in the use of available resources. Up to the present, 7 atlases have been developed in which the variations in hip and knee arthroplasty operations have been analysed, as well as the variability in home-based respiratory therapies (oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation and continuous positive airway pressure), the variation in intravenous thrombolysis in patients with ischemic stroke and the variability and in renal replacement therapy in patients with chronic kidney failure (haemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplant).

One of the sources of data for this study, in fact, the most widely used, is the basic minimum group of data obtained at the time of a hospital discharge (CMBD-AH, the Catalan acronym) where the results are presented as activity rates, reasons for standardised uses and variability statistics. The methodology that lies behind this initiative can be seen here. The basic strategy of all the analyses is to compare the rates of use (numerator: for example, hospital admittances) of the inhabitants in a region (denominator: for example, basic area of health), regardless of the centre where patients have been treated or admitted. In addition, both the rates and the reasons for use are reflected in maps to better visualise the data which is another interesting point nowadays.

Apart from all this, it is important to stress that all the atlases include actions and recommendations for planners (Health Department), insurer (CatSalut), providers and professionals, and which have been developed by a unique team of experts with whom the results of the atlases are discussed.

This year, we have decided to take another step forward and convert the publications we have had till now in a static format (PDF), into dynamic publications that facilitate greater interaction with the data and, therefore, a more global view of the clinical practice analysed.

This is an example of the visualisation of the interactive hip and knee arthroplasty atlas which feeds off the data in the Catalan Arthroplasty Registry (RaCat):

atles-digital-siscat-berga

Next year, you will be able to know whether there are variations in the Catalan territory regarding hospitalisations for back surgery, in the repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms and in gastrointestinal cancer surgery (esophagus, pancreatic, liver, stomach and rectal cancer).

We cannot end this post without thanking all the speakers that made the presentations seminar of the Atlas of variations in clinical practice of SISCAT possible last 21 November, and especially to Enrique Bernal-Delgado, the key professional in the analysis initiative and in mapping the variations of clinical practice in the Spanish National Health System.

As far as AQuAS is concerned, it is one of our work lines which was begun some time ago now which has recently generated publications such as this article on respiratory diseases and this article on kidney disease.

And I ask myself, …. now that we have the tools to identify and describe the variability in clinical practices which are carried out in Catalonia, why don’t we try and explain them? The atlases of variations in clinical practice of SISCAT are a key tool to ask ourselves questions.

Post written by Laura Muñoz, statistician.

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In memory of professor Joan Rodés

12 Jan
Joan MV Pons

Joan MV Pons

With his passing away, Dr Joan Rodés (1938-2017) will be remembered by many people in person, and in many fields, for those who had the good fortune to know him as a doctor, researcher, manager and assessor (of politicians), as his was a life full to the brim. No matter which professional activity he took part in, and with the responsibilities he took on throughout his life, he left his mark and the accolades expressed these days are a clear demonstration of this.

To AQuAS (originally AATM), Joan Rodés has been an exceptional figure and I say this without any rhetoric whatsoever. When the Agency was created in 1994, he presided its scientific board of assessors and at the end of 1999, when the institution became known as Catalan Agency for Health Tecnology Assessment and Research (CAHTA), in Catalan Agència d’Avaluació de Tecnologia i Recerca Mèdiques (AATRM), he presided its Administrative Board, a position that he held till 2010. It was in that period (2000-2006) that, due to my responsabilities within the Agency as Managing Director, I was able to get to know this great personality more closely, very much a big strong fellow (in Catalan, a homenot) was Joan, as Josep Pla would say. At that time, we saw each other often, and I had frequent exchanges with him, aside from the more or less termly meetings of the Administrative Board. I did this in that minute office of the haematology services and later in that of the General Manager at the Hospital Clinic.

No matter what the position he occupied, he was always watchful -very much so- of events at the Agency, being a great facilitator of its duties. It was like this, without a doubt, because with Joan Rodés there was no need to convince him of the importance of informing well about decisions taken in the health services, using the most updated and precise knowledge that was available, not only that regarding the benefits and risks to health of medical interventions, but also in terms of its economic, ethical and social impact. For him and I quote his words literally from the AATRM Newsletter, 10 years of the Agency, of November 2004:

“critical assessment and continued learning are basic tools that need to be maintained and improved, not only by the Agency, in its everyday activity, but also by all the multiple actors and stakeholders in the health system (professionals, managers, politicians and citizens) that wish to continue sustaining this element of such importance for our social well-being”

I said this because of his role of facilitator as highest representative of the Agency giving constant support to the activities it carried out, but also because of his extensive experience and network of relationships that contributed to giving strength to many initiatives that were then being undertaken, especially in the field of research and its assessment. I was able to discuss this with him on many occasions at a later date, and I never once perceived an interventionist or managerial attitude; quite the opposite, always with a laissez-faire approach where each one had to do their assigned task (the technicians and managing director of the Agency, the scientific board and the administrative board) while facilitating that of others.

It has always been a great pleasure for me -a privilege better said- to have maintained contact at dinners and get-togethers, even during the last period in which his respiratory illness worsened, but he would still go to IDIBAPS from time to time despite this. I cannot end without saying that during those times when we would talk about any and everything (medicine, science, politics, society, the past, present and future) we had a really good laugh. Then as now that you have left us, you are and will very much be in my thoughts.

Post written by Joan MV Pons

agencia-2004-ca

Joan Rodés presiding an Administrative Board of AATRM in 2004

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Let’s begin the new year…

5 Jan

We begin the year by saying a big thank you.

Frederic Llordachs, Veva Barba, Gemma Bruna, Elena Torrente, Cari Almazan, Emili Vela, Montse Mias, Lluís Bohígas, Cristian Tebé Cordomí, Neus Solé Peñalver, Montse Moharra, Aline Noizet, Mercè Piqueras, Josep Maria Monguet, Gabi Barbaglia, Joan Escarrabill, Cristina Ribas, Carme Carrion, Verónica Vélez, Astrid Batlle, Andrea Aldemira, Sílvia Ricart, Esther Lasheras, Olga Valsells, Joaquín Gascón, Angela Coulter, Arantxa Catalán, Anna Càrol Pérez Segarra, Núria Prat, Roser Vallès, Dilmeza Osorio, Johanna Caro, Iris Lumillo, Oscar Garcia, Luis Rajmil, Andrea Molina, Diego Mena, Jose Expósito, Vicky Serra-Sutton, Dolors Rodríguez Arjona, Joan MV Pons, Esther Vizcaino Garcia, Mireia Espallargues, Laia Domingo, Noemí Robles, Sandra García-Armesto, Enrique Bernal-Delgado, Hortènsia Aguado, Anna García-Altés, Dolores Ruiz Muñoz, Santi Gómez, Laura Mónica Pérez, Marco Inzitari, Liliana Arroyo, Maite Solans, Toni Dedéu, Marta Millaret

2016 AQuAS blog contributors

 

In 2016, those who collaborated in the AQuAS blog were: Frederic Llordachs, Veva Barba, Gemma Bruna, Elena Torrente, Cari Almazan, Emili Vela, Montse Mias, Lluís Bohígas, Cristian Tebé Cordomí, Neus Solé Peñalver, Montse Moharra, Aline Noizet, Mercè Piqueras, Josep Maria Monguet, Gabi Barbaglia, Joan Escarrabill, Cristina Ribas, Carme Carrion, Verónica Vélez, Astrid Batlle, Andrea Aldemira, Sílvia Ricart, Esther Lasheras, Olga Valsells, Joaquín Gascón, Angela Coulter, Arantxa Catalán, Anna Càrol Pérez Segarra, Núria Prat, Roser Vallès, Dilmeza Osorio, Johanna Caro, Iris Lumillo, Oscar Garcia, Luis Rajmil, Andrea Molina, Diego Mena, Jose Expósito, Vicky Serra-Sutton, Dolors Rodríguez Arjona, Joan MV Pons, Esther Vizcaino Garcia, Mireia Espallargues, Laia Domingo, Noemí Robles, Sandra García-Armesto, Enrique Bernal-Delgado, Hortènsia Aguado, Anna García-Altés, Dolores Ruiz Muñoz, Santi Gómez, Laura Mónica Pérez, Marco Inzitari, Liliana Arroyo, Maite Solans, Toni Dedéu and Marta Millaret.

Thank you very much!

Blog AQuAS in Catalan Blog AQuAS in SpanishBlog AQuAS in English

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Wishing you all a Joyous Festive Season from the AQuAS blog

29 Dec
nadal-2016-marta-millaret

Marta Millaret

From the blog AQUAS we hope you are having a good festive season and would like to thank you for reading and following us.

We publish weekly in Catalan, Spanish and English on subjects related to the projects that are being carried out at AQuAS and we also publish contributions from guest authors. The editorial line of the blog includes a focus on assessment from different points of view and areas of the health system.

Along these lines, we have dealt with healthcare and quality results presented by the different agents who make up the healthcare system, the whole range of observatories of the Catalan Health System (including that which deals with the effects of the economic crisis on the health of the population and innovation), qualitative research, integrated care, the assessment of mHealth, inequalities in health, patient involvement, doctor-patient communication, shared decisions, patient and citizen preferences, variations in medical practice, the prevention of low-value clinical practices, the impact of research, information and communications technology, data analysis in research, tools for the visualisation of data, innovation and health management, the gender perspective in science, statistical issues, clinical safety with electronic prescriptions, chronicity (not forgetting chronicity in children), the effects of air pollution in health and current topics.

blog-aquas

The most read articles in 2016 have been:

However, we have published many more texts, 51 posts to be precise, without counting this one, with the aim of sharing knowledge and generating a space for reflection, open and useful for everyone.

Thank you very much, a joyous festive season and see you in the new year!

Post written by Marta Millaret (@MartaMillaret), blog AQuAS editor.

nadal-2016-aquas-bicicleta

 

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Is it possible to combine active and healthy ageing with innovation?

22 Dec
toni-dedeu

Toni Dedéu

The European Innovation Partnership on Active & Healthy Ageing (EIPonAHA) is an initiative of the European Commission to deal strategically with the social challenges associated to active and healthy ageing, to make good practices in innovation more visible and to facilitate exchanges between regions, all of which promote interregional cooperation and the value of excellence.

What is its aim? To improve the health and quality of life of Europeans, especially of people older than 65, and to give support to the sustainability and efficiency of health and social care systems in the long term as well as to enhance the competitiveness of EU industry through expansion in new markets.

The reflection on how health systems interact with an ageing population and care in chronicity has been been one of the main lines followed in the AQuAS blog during 2016; they are subjects that affect our society and, precisely because of this, are part of the Health agenda.

In this context, having links to European projects is fundamental, where networking, collaborative projects and assessment are absolutely essential.

eiponaha

This is the underlying idea of the Reference Sites awards which assess regional European health ecosystems based on four axes:

  1. Political, organisational, technological and financial willingness for an innovative approach to active and healthy ageing
  2. The capacity to share knowledge and resources for innovation
  3. Contributiing to European cooperation and transferability of own practices
  4. Providing evidence of positive impact

The status of “Reference Site” is awarded to systems, alliances and ecosystems in health which comprise different players at a regional European level (government authorities, hospitals and care organisations, the health industry, SMEs and start-ups, research and innovation organisations and civil society) which have invested in developing and implementing innovative-based approaches to active and healthy ageing. These practices must be carried out with a comprehensive approach and vision and proof of the impact of their results must be provided.

Four stars is the highest distinction awarded by EIP on AHA and this is the score obtained by Catalonia as a leading health ecosystem and a reference for institutions and European organisations in the area of innovation in active and healthy ageing. These factors encourage the internationalisation and visibility of the Catalan health system and at the same time increase the possibilities for creating initiatives and forming consortiums for collaborative work with other European regions.

Being self-critical of the  different health systems is as important as the knowledge and recognition of one’s own strengths and values. Sharing this is a way of acknowledging the involvement and work done by many professionals. We do not work in isolation; as a whole, this work has involved and involves AQuAS, the Fundació TicSalut, the HUBc (Health University of the Barcelona Campus), the ICS  (Catalan Health Institut),  the IDIAP Jordi Gol (Institute for Research in Primary Care), the Pere Mata Institute, the IRB Lleida (Biomedical Research Institution of Lleida), the VHIR (Vall d’Hebron Institut de Recerca), the Consorci Sanitari del Garraf  and the Institut Guttmann.

Last 7 December in Brussels, on behalf of the Department of Health, I received the award for the Catalonia Reference Site group given by the European Commission. It is relevant because this fact defines Catalonia as one of the most dynamic and leading European regions in number and quality of initiatives, investment and results in generating and implementing innovative solutions to resolving problems in care and health to elderly people, chronic patients and other groups of risk patients.

The fact that Catalonia has obtained this distinction from the European Commission has a very clear meaning: Catalonia is recognised as one of the leading European regions regarding active and healthy ageing and innovation.

On we go.

Post written by Toni Dedéu (@Toni_Dedeu), Managing Director of AQuAS.

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Why is difficult to reduce low value clinical practices in a Hospital?

15 Dec
MaiteSolans

Maite Solans

Within the framework of the Programa de Millora de la Pràctica Clínica (Programme for improvement in Clinical Practice) of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital – VHIR Institut de Recerca (VHIR Research Institute) and in collaboration with the Essencial project, work has been done to explore what barriers health professionals (hospital doctors and nurses) come up against in order to implement clinical recommendations aimed at reducing inadequate practices or those of low clinical value. A group of 15 health professionals (with medical or surgical specialities) collaborated in two discussion sessions to identify these barriers. The work done by Dimelza Osorio of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and by Liliana Arroyo of the University of Barcelona has been really outstanding.

When talking about inadequate practices or those of low clinical value, we are referring to inappropriate health interventions in certain circumstances, whether it be because the risks involved outweigh the benefits, because their efficiency is not proven or because there is not a clear cost-benefit correlation. These low value practices are present in everyday clinical practice and can lead to an over-diagnosis and/or over-treatment, meaning diagnosing or treating a clinical condition in which there are no notable health benefits for patients.

The barriers identified can be classified into four levels: micro, meso, macro and those of the context. At a first level (micro), those deriving from the characteristics of professionals themselves were identified, such as the tendency for self-protection in the face of claims or legal problems (defensive medicine), dealing with uncertainty or having had bad experiences previously; scepticism towards scientific evidence as a result of out-dated or contradictory information; other attitudes of professionals such as inertia or resistance to change; and the lack of training. All these constitute barriers. Patients’ characteristics were also identified, such as their reluctances and demands; the figure of the expert patient or beliefs acquired in the past.

At a second level (meso), barriers as a result of the interaction between professionals and patients were identified. Some barriers have to do with the relationship between professionals; that is to say, difficulties related to clinical leadership, the coordination between different professionals (or specialists), or the cohesion within teams. There are also barriers of organisational leadership such as a lack of institutional support in legal issues, the inertia of the organisation itself, economic incentives, wrongly applied penalties or the lack of foresight of certain costs. And then barriers of information flow, namely, the inefficiency of information systems such as the lack of operating capacity of e-mailing, or intoxication due to an excess of corporate information.

At a third level (macro), barriers are influenced by the structure and management characteristics of a hospital and the Catalan health system. The healthcare conditions stand out, such as the burden of healthcare, the duration of the attention given to patients, or how much technology is used in care, that is, greater access to facilities and tests. But also the design of the health system, such as in the lack of systemic leadership, or the lack of coordination between different levels of healthcare (primary care, hospital care, social healthcare, ….) . And then also the characteristics of the health system like territorial differences and the legal and bureaucratic context.

Lastly, certain external factors to the health system (the context) can also lead to low value clinical practices persisting. Although a lot less present in this case, the political context and the influence from the media are included.

The importance of each barrier is shown in the following graph:

barreres-en

Potential solutions were explored or proposed in the same session so as to eliminate these barriers; a series of solutions have been proposed mainly related to the creation of a leadership strategy and a series of clear options, which require rationlising processes and using available information properly.

Post written by Maite Solans (@SolansMaite).

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Elderly person with stroke: integrated care from the acute phase to the return home

9 Dec
marco-inzitari

Marco Inzitari

Stroke has a high incidence, a growing prevalence and is the pathology with the second highest impact in the world in terms of disability among adults. Despite important advances in acute stroke management, which have led to a progressive decrease in acute stroke deaths, in terms of residual disability, stroke continues to have an extremely high impact on survivors, their families, their caregivers and on society in general.

Evidence shows that the approach to patients throughout the process of care in stroke, from the acute phase to the rehabilitation phase, needs to be multidisciplinary since patients have multiple health care and social needs which require a strong coordination between the different levels of healthcare. However, the tendency is still to organise conferences and congresses focused on only one speciality or level of healthcare.

On the other hand, and in self-criticism, even though stroke is one of the main reasons for using intermediate or long-term healthcare services, this sector almost never takes part in the decision making process of stroke care organisation. Neither does it do much research in stroke and in general, tends to put little thought into improving knowledge in treatments or in innovating the organisation of services compared to, for example, other conditions such as thighbone fractures.

This is why the Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili organised a monothematic symposium on 27 October, two days before the World Stroke Day. It focused on the treatment and management of stroke in elderly people from a different perspective: we traced the trajectory from the “needle” of the thrombolysis in the acute phase, passing through rehabilitative care and “reablement” in the post-acute phase, to the transition back to home life, describing the care given to patients especially, but not forgetting the attention caregivers need.

jornada-ictus-pere-virgili

The presentations reflected and reinforced the need for a multidisciplinary approach in all phases of stroke. As an added value, in all cases the speakers not only combined recommendations derived from literature with their own practical healthcare experience but also provided data from their own research or innovation projects, in many cases with data published recently.

Among the speakers there was a varied representation from very different disciplines which included neurologists, geriatricians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, a health economist and the representative of the stroke patients association who chaired a roundtable.

Some of the items that were highlighted most strongly during the symposium were:

  1. The large amount of increasingly more accurate data available on all phases of stroke management. In Catalonia, this data is being provided by the Results Centre, which encourages transparency and allows for benchmarking thereby facilitating a reduction in variability and the sharing of best practices.
  2. Despite improvements in the treatment of acute stroke patients using mechanical thrombectomy together with systemic thrombolysis, 40% of patients are left with a considerable disability as a consequence of stroke. This “glass half-full” should therefore encourage more to be done in terms of acute stroke management, and also in post-acute care which is still vital.
  3. In acute care, age should not be a discriminating factor. This is in line with the concept that chronological age does not correspond necessarily to biological age and that two elderly people of the same age can have a totally different “functional potential” (a concept which in practice in the field of geriatrics is understood as meaning more or less “frail”).
  4. Advances have not only been made in acute care but also in the field of primary and secondary preventive care. Accordingly, the development, the approval of and the use of NOACs (new oral anticoagulants) have been a determining factor since they offer an alternative for those patients where traditional anticoagulants are not a therapeutic option.
  5. The rehabilitation prognosis is multifactorial. A recent proposal stemming from a multi-centre Catalan study led by our hospital and published recently, is based on a simple algorithm which incorporates the social factor (presence of the caregiver) together with the severity of the stroke (using the NIHSS score), functional status (according to the Barthel index) and cognitive function (a result of the Rancho Los Amigos scale). This allows patients to be classified in three levels of rehabilitation complexity, but who might evolve differently, with different needs for intervention, both in the rehabilitation process and regarding their return home.
  6. Integrated interventions in geriatric rehabilitation can be home-based for certain patients as an alternative to a hospital admission. This model, deeply rooted in England and which has proven to be beneficial, is producing good results in our context in different pathologies including stroke. Innovative formulas such as “Comprehensive Home-based Hospitalisation” have, in our context, come about from the alliance between home-based geriatric care teams (doctor, nurse and social worker) and those of home-based rehabilitation (rehabilitation doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech therapist).
  7. In terms of physiotherapy, treatments should be more standardised and their efficacy demonstrated. During the symposium, interesting evidence was presented on the control of the trunk and its importance throughout the rehabilitation process in stroke.
  8. Dysphagia is a very prevalent risk condition in patients who have suffered a stroke. Different proposals of scales for assessment at the bedside were shown which can be applied by nurses, reserving the speech therapist’s intervention for the most complex cases which require a more specialised assessment.
  9. In rehabilitation, the support from the ICT (“telerehabilitation” which patients can receive following the instructions and programme configuration of the physiotherapist) allows treatments to be extended in time and intensity along with face-to-face treatment.
  10. Working with caregivers is important. Apart from guiding them within the system, the availability of support groups for exchanging personal experiences, for a social worker, for example, could have an impact on the adaptation of the caregiver to the new situation. To this effect, an innovative experience was developed in our centre with a high degree of acceptance by patients and their families.
  11. Continuity in the recovery process is key and the integration of health and social services guarantees an added value. The pilot “Return Programme” in the city of Barcelona, the result of the alliance between the Catalan Health Service and the City Council of Barcelona was presented. It allows for the direct activation of social services, from acute care and long-term care hospitals so that patients can receive the necessary aid when they return home and thus avoid unnecessary and dangerous delays.

In summary, much progress has been made in the treatment of stroke, especially in the acute phase, but innovation is also being carried out in the successive phases and the symposium showcased different experiences which have been implemented in our context. Drawing conclusions from the symposium, the take home messages are that a comprehensive view of the entire process is key, as well as an integrated and coordinated approach between the different levels of healthcare and social services. On the other hand, more research needs to be carried out especially in the post-acute and chronic phases resulting from the disease and this poses a challenge because of the difficulty in designing and implementing complex interventions where designs such as standard clinical trials are not the solution.

Post written by Marco Inzitari (@marcoinzi) and Laura Mónica Pérez, Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili, Barcelona.

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