Unfortunately, inequalities in health are still an issue today including in our country. The crisis of recent years has once again put the spotlight on this subject.
This is why we propose an itinerary taking us through the different texts which we have published on the subject in this blog and, in particular, we invite you to read the original texts which are mentioned here in more depth, a large proportion of which have been elaborated at the AQuAS.
In September of last year, Luis Rajmil reflected on social inequalities in child health and the economic crisis in this post placing the concepts of equality, equity and reality on the agenda for discussion.
“At present, there is enough accumulated information that shows that life’s course and the conditions of prenatal life as well as life during the first few years are very influential factors in the health and social participation of an adult to come.”
At a later date, the Observatory of the effects of the crisis on the health of the population published its third report but prior to that, a post was published with a collection of individual thoughts and reflections on this subject by Xavier Trabado, Angelina González and Andreu Segura focussing on, respectively, the effects of the crisis on the mental health of people, the coordination of different mechanisms in primary and specialised care, the urgency for community health actions and the need to engage in intersectoral actions.
“It is urgent to put community health processes into action; processes in which the community is the protagonist, which constitute the shift from treating an illness to a bio-psycho-social approach which gives an impulse to intersectoral work in a network with local agents, with who there is the shared aim of improving the community’s well-being. Based on the needs detected and prioritised in a participatory way and with the local assets identified, these processes activate interventions based on evidence which are assessed”
In this other post, Cristina Colls presented an interesting case of the application of scientific evidence to political action which occurred with the revision of the socio-economic dimension of the formula for allocating resources to primary care.
“Social inequality leads to an unbalanced distribution of the population in a territory, concentrating the most serious social problems in certain municipalities or neighbourhoods having higher needs for social and health services than other territories. In this context, more needs to be done where needs are greater if the aim is to guarantee equality in the allocation of resources”
Finally, the most recent post was written by Anna García-Altés and Guillem López-Casanovas. It is a text that provides food for thought based on the latest report published from the Observatory of the Health System of Catalonia on the effects of the crisis on the health of the population.
“Understanding the mechanisms by which social inequalities have an impact on the health of the population, so as to know how best to counter or neutralise them, in any place and at any time, is an issue that must still be addressed by our social policies”
We hope that you this very short itinerary through these texts, initiatives and analyses that aim to be useful in tackling inequalities has been of interest.
Since 2001, the AQuAS (Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia) has been in charge of evaluating the proposals of research projects that are eligible to receive funding from the Fundació La Marató de TV3. It means prioritising the research with the most quality using a quantitative and qualitative methodology in a process that lasts months and that ends in a face-to-face meeting of international experts.
The assessment of research which is centred at the AQuAS considers three different stages in the cycle of research. The assessment of research proposals (avaluació ex-ante), assessment during research (ongoing assessment) and assessment once the research has been completed (avaluació ex-post). The AQuAS has a long track record and lengthy experience in all these stages of research.
The fact that one and the same institution does assessment of research and assessment of the health system is altogether exceptional and is one of the strong points of the AQuAS. The two types of assessment benefit each other mutually as a result of the knowledge that is generated.
Since last year, the PERIS call is also assessed, which is an important new event and a strong boost for Catalan biomedical research. With regards to this call, it is worth highlighting the will and determination in placing people at the centre of research, and that we, in fact, right now find ourselves in a very good period because the analysis of data offers many opportunities in research.
Apart from all this there is a long-term task, which will take years, which has to do with the question of research and gender.
The article heads the publications of this magazine in terms of impact.
Regarding the question of research and gender, we took the topic up again on this blog with another post as a call for reflection and to be aware of the reality that surrounds us, both within and beyond the area of research.
At AQuAS we ask ourselves how such a small team in number but huge in involvement manages to deal with the complex mechanism of comprehensive assessment of several research calls, research impact and also carry out research on the involvement of citizens in research, research in the media and the already mentioned question of research and gender.
In short, a lot of work done and a lot of work on the go at present with 100% involvement of the research team at the AQuAS and of many other collaborators and experts.
The management of information is key to the health system from the perspective of a greater integration between patients and professionals of different levels. Shared information, transparency, evaluation and the readjustment of healthcare processes need to be primary lines of action so as to situate the patient at the centre of the different interactions with professionals of different fields.
The expansion of information technologies has created new opportunities which enable people to participate actively in the monitoring of care processes offering a unique opportunity to facilitate communication and improve a patient’s commitment. The new model of care which the Health Plan Catalonia 2016-2020 proposes is aimed at putting more focus on patients and to that effect, tools have been developed that improve the relationship between citizens and the health system making it all easier.
In Catalonia, we have a personal health folder available since 2009, Cat@Salut La Meva Salut (LMS), accessed by using a digital certificate or using a user name and password which are provided by a citizen’s primary healthcare reference centre.
La Meva Salut is a personal digital space for consultation and interaction, which puts relevant health information generated by public healthcare centres in Catalonia at the disposal of citizens, in a safe and confidential way. This information includes such things as the current medication plan, vaccines administered, diagnoses, clinical information, results of tests and complementary examinations
When considering La Meva Salut, we can say that it is a strategic project which promotes the participation and co-responsibility of citizens in prevention and the care of their health, fostering awareness and knowledge related to their pathologies and making it possible for them to participate in the clinical process of care.
La Meva Salut offers cross-cutting and strategic services of the Catalan Department of Health and it also allows different health providers to incorporate more personalised services according to the more specific needs of patients in each entity, which are standardised in La Meva Salut.
In this way, La Meva Salut offers a unique gateway to the virtual health system allowing citizens, who identify themselves only once, to use services of different centres in an integrated and personalised way. Some of these services already in use, are, among others: changing primary care doctors, requesting appointments to see a primary care doctor and for international vaccination services, service of patient communities (allows groups of patients to be created for sharing opinions and dealing with different pathologies with the help of an administrator that is usually a health professional), and the monitoring of patients with chronic pathologies.
The most noteworthy cross-cutting services that the Department of Health has made available are:
• Consultation of waiting lists for surgery
• Consultation of pending appointments and tests of any health provider in an integrated way
• Obtainment of organ donor’s card
• Consultation of the Advance Directives document
• Inclusion by the patient of clinical variables in their clinical history
• Secure mail service, eConsulta
eConsulta is an asynchronous and bidirectional remote communications tool between a citizen and health professional that complements face-to-face care. The access by citizens is only possible via La Meva Salut, in a safe environment which guarantees confidentiality in communication. Citizens are authenticated each time they enter and the professional can only consult or respond from their work station; in this way, the information is stored in the repositories of the Health Dept. incorporating them into the electronic clinical history of each citizen.
This is a new channel of agile communication to resolve a citizen’s consultations in a virtual manner. Either the professional or the patient can begin a dialogue. The access of citizens to the health system is thus made easier and a solution is provided to a part of healthcare needs without needing to programme face-to-face visits, with the corresponding saving of paperwork and time this means for citizens and professionals.
Data used in eConsultation in Primary Care in Catalonia*
What do these two tools, La Meva Consulta and eConsulta, offer the professional?
We can answer this question briefly and clearly:
These tools represent a new model in the relationship with citizens where they are invited to participate in the care process and, moreover, have the possibility of adding information (via La Meva Salut)
The new channel of communication generated by these tools allows notifications and documents to be sent in a safe way and, ultimately, to establish a non-face-to-face type of relationship with patients. In models such as Kaiser Permanente in the United States, the number of face-to-face visits has been reduced considerably
Tele• Substitution of face-to-face visits with virtual visits such as the updating of the online medication plan, results of normal tests and the monitoring of some types of pathologies
As happens with any change, the inclusion of technologies in processes requires users to adapt to new uses despite these having clear benefits.
This new way of interaction between patients and the health system has come to stay as happened in other sectors, such as in banking, for example, where processes have been changed significantly.
On the other hand, technologies increase the levels of security of access to information, enabling alerts of pathological results to be generated, providing support tools to clinical decision making, improving the self-management of agendas with the use of eConsulta, substituting low added value tasks with others that require a clinical interpretation and dedication to patients that need more time and knowledge.
The challenge in Catalonia is the deployment of a new model of care that promotes the use of online services, with the objective – once implemented – of fundamentally changing the care process in health centres by empowering patients and achieving a safer medical practice.
With careful development and the joint effort of professionals and citizens, each one in their role, these services can be incorporated successfully into the organisation of healthcare.
Post written by Òscar Solans (@osolans), functionally in charge of eSalut (eHealth) in the Catalan Health Department.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Mark Britnell is an international expert in health systems having held several senior positions in the NHS and currently provides consulting services for several countries. With this wealth of experience, Britnell wrote a book in 2015 with the inspiring title of, In search of the perfect health care system (1). In it, Britnell examines the dilemmas facing governments, the global challenges such as demographic, epidemiological, technological and economic transitions, as well as the more specific cases facing each country.
A significant portion of the book, more than half, is dedicated to examining individual countries grouped by continent: the Asian region including Australia (with large countries from Japan, China and India, to small densely populated enclaves such as Singapore and Hong Kong) Africa and the Middle East (just three very different examples such as Qatar, Israel and South Africa), Europe (from Portugal to Russia via the Nordic countries, Germany, Italy, France and the English) and the Americas (from the north; Canada, USA and Mexico and the south, such as Brazil). Too bad that the section on the Iberian Peninsula only speaks of our western neighbours (the eastern side but a general walk through).
There is no questioning that Britnells’ knowledge has been acquired first hand, given his worldwide expertise in conferences and consultancy. As the author mentions, he is often asked which country has the best health care system? Since the WHO report, Health systems: Improving performance (2), published in 2000, several country rankings have been published according to the assessment of their health systems using a variety of methodologies and outcomes. The table below serves as an example.
Nowadays, rankings proliferate as can be seen in universities and research institutions/centres. The indicators may be different, but it seems that one may always end up finding the most favourable ranking for them. Catalan public universities are a good example, given that centre advertises their position – besides that of excellence in comparison to other universities which are not necessarily British – in the ranking system which makes it stand out to a greater degree that other Catalan universities.
Britnell, getting back to our point, after so many rankings, lectures and consulting, make a proposal on what the best health system might be by taking the best areas from the different countries. If the world could have a perfect health system, it would have to possess the following characteristics:
– Universal healthcare values (UK)
– Primary health care (Israel)
– Community services (Brazil)
– Mental health and welfare (Australia)
– Promoting health (Scandinavian countries)
– Empowerment of patients and communities (certain African nations)
– Research and development (USA)
– Innovation and new ways of doing things (India)
– IT and Communication technologies (Singapore)
– The capacity of choice (France)
– Funding (Switzerland)
– Care for the elderly (Japan)
What lies behind a significant volume of hospital readmissions? What makes a service present a good healthcare praxis? What obstacles are there when changing to a healthcare model such as in major out-patient surgery which encourages patients to go home on the same day as their operation? Do managers and nursing staff have the same opinion about what efficiency is in an operating theatre? What is the perception of professionals of the possible benefits of people-centred attention?
Do we all see a dragon?
Reality is complex and therefore approaches are needed which facilitate the interpretation and understanding of that reality. With qualitative research, places can be reached otherwise unattainable when using other methodological aproximations. When answering questions like those we asked ourselves previously, a truly qualitative approach is required. We need to make the approach using an adequate and credible technique to validate the process of all those involved and to ensure precision in results as is done in quantitative research but not forgetting that we need to be critical and independent in the analysis made.
We will briefly outline the evolution of the qualitative approaches in the context of the assessment of health services. A reflection on the usefulness of qualitative techniques in the assessment of health services or medical technologies is not a new one and you can find a series on this subject in the British Medical Journal of 1995 and in the Health Technology Assessment report of 1998.
Health assessment agencies have given great importance to questions about the scientific evidence available when talking about the efficiency and safety of treatments and biomedical interventions of a clinical nature. Randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews are considered to be the reference standards for causal atributions of the benefits of an intervention for the improvement in the health status of patients.
Society has evolved and the needs of the system adapt to this. We formulate new questions related to the preferences and expectations of users facing treatment and how different professionals contribute to providing better results in patient health care. One must bear in mind that when assessing the benefits and results of attention given, many factors come into play.
In this context, the paradigm of evidence based medicine and the supposed superiority of quantitative approaches and of some study designs above others, have created obstacles in the application of qualitative research. In this sense, the letter to the editors of the British Medical Journal signed by more than 70 researchers of reference for giving their support to qualitative research is clear proof of this remaining obstacle.
Questioning the efficacy of a medical drug cannot be answered using a qualitative approach but we can broaden the scope of questions that we pose ourselves.
For example, we can consider asking ourselves questions, among others, about the preferences of patients, the perception of the benefits of a medical drug, the expectations or opinion of professionals that prescribe it or the possible reasons for a low adherence of the medical drug.
Another scenario could be that of a patient with osteoarthritis who has undergone a knee replacement (arthroplasty) and who is being attended by several professionals such as the primary care doctor, the traumatologist surgeon, the anaesthetist, the nurse, the physiotherapist and other professionals if the patient has other comorbidities. That patient has certain preferences and expectations which need to be understood and then give the health care to cover those needs, which can go beyond the mere surgical procedure.
With qualitative research we develop a discourse, texts, opinions and perceptions of people, communities, with images, perspectives, ideologies and complexities. We must guarantee rigour and that the photograph and interpretation of reality that we make remain valid and coherent for the research group and the populaton or group of people that we are assessing.
The application of qualitative techniques has been on the rise using interviews, semi-structured questionnaires, field notes, focus or discussion groups to gather the opinion of different groups of professionals and users.
From my point of view, there are three examples which can be of great use to know the approach and the process in carrying out an assessment of services with a qualitative approach:
Avoiding the classic metrics means being able to measure in an alternative or complementary way by combining different approaches be they qualitative or quantitative. I find the introduction to qualitative research we find in René Brown’s TED talk the power of vulnerability. This qualitative researcher recommends we measure that which is apparently unmeasurable and go more in depth into the complex phenomenon of vulnerabilty.
We broaden perspectives by understanding the reality from within, by bearing in mind the multiple existing points of view to improve that which is disfunctional or by identifying better practices to spread them. We can measure what we want to measure. It will be necessary to adapt the approach to the context and audiences and to continue progressing to show with rigour and practice the usefulness of qualitative approaches.
We continue learning. This time, it has been at the Congrés Iberoamericà de Recerca Qualitativa en Salut (in Twitter #IICS2016) held in Barcelona, 5-7 September. The Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya (AQuAS) and the Agència de Salut Pública de Catalunya (ASPCAT) shared the stand to explain their experiences.
Post written by Vicky Serra-Sutton (@vserrasutton), sociologist PhD in AQuAS.