What are we doing about low-value medical practices?

8 Feb
Cari Almazán

The aim of the Essencial Project is to improve the quality of healthcare by providing professionals with evidence that is useful for them to make informed decisions in their day to day work.

What is special about this project is that this is done by identifying routine low-value practices in the health system and by using a strategy aimed at avoiding these practices.

Cari Almazán, the person in charge of this project, responds to questions in an interview.

What is the Essencial Project?

It is a project of the Department of Health of Catalonia led by the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS – its Catalan acronym), in which researchers from the AQuAS, health professionals, scientific societies and the Advisory Board of Patients participate. Each and every one, in their role, work with a clear objective: improving the quality of healthcare using a very specific strategy to identify low-value practices and thereby provide information to professionals to help them avoid doing all the things they do which do not offer any health benefits to the patient.

What is a low-value practice?

In usual medical practice, there are known routines that do not offer any benefit to the patient and it is difficult to understand why these occur but it is even more difficult to try and avoid them. In all likelihood there is a resistance to change and we need to spend a lot of time explaining what this project is about.

How does the Essencial Project work?

It works at different levels and we try to be systematic and transparent. This involves a line of work which includes: identifying low-value practices, finding knowledge (the evidence), informing about and implementing the project.

If a routine does not offer any benefit to the patient, why is it followed?

This is precisely what we ask professionals in primary care, among many other things. The comments “because we have always done it like this” or “because it is a request of the patient” are frequent. There is a certain tendency to want to feel we are being useful, a human one I would say. Both the professional and the patient feel better but on occasion, there is evidence which indicates that this “feeling better” is not accompanied by any benefit for the patient. This is what needs to be explained very carefully.

What role does the Essencial Project have in the day to day activity of a health professional and that of a potential patient?

There are many projects aligned with the initiative to improve the quality of healthcare. In this context, the Essencial Project is a tool of the health system to help health professionals make decisions. The Essencial Project thus aims to be useful to the health system and professionals. In addition, for a potential patient, knowing about this project can also help contribute to their understanding of why a health professional does not recommend a certain diagnostic test or treatment.

I am unsure as to whether the project is aimed at professionals or at citizens.

The Essencial Project is aimed at the entire population. On the one hand, it is aimed at professionals to provide them with this tool, but also at citizens. Why not? Whether citizens want this information is another thing altogether.

Do citizens show an interest in having all this information available to them?

We don’t know, we should ask them. We know of experiences where it is not clear that the information which is given is the information that citizens want but at the AQuAS we believe that sharing knowledge and methodology is an exercise in responsibility.

Who chooses the recommendations?

Cari: They are chosen in collaboration with the different scientific societies. Right now, there is a participative process on the go to prioritise low-value clinical practices in the framework of the Third Conference of Care in Sexual and Reproductive Health. In the Essencial Conference 2017 subjects for recommendation were prioritised based on the participation of the professionals that attended the conference. The idea is that it is the professionals themselves who identify when and where practices of this sort occur.

Who creates the contents of the Essencial Project?

The contents that accompany each recommendation are the result of the participation of many expert professionals in different disciplines. These contents are then validated. In terms of the videos, professionals at the AQuAS along with health professionals produce these which explain the key idea of each recommendation in the first person in an informative manner.

What would you highlight of the Essencial Project?

That we offer every recommendation, the chance to collaborate with health professionals, a bibliography and files for patients in a systematic way.  This last idea of files for patients is a subject which we will delve into more deeply shortly from the agency. Perhaps, what I would say is most important here is that all this forms a part of a commitment to bring the culture of assessment and the culture of Choosing Wisely at all levels closer to everyone: the citizenry, professionals and the health system.

Health data: Do we give citizens what they want?

24 Nov
Dolores Ruiz-Muñoz, Anna García-Altés and Hortènsia Aguado

The right to receive advice with regards to the information available on the network is reflected in the Carta de drets i deures de la ciutadania en relació a la salut i l’atenció sanitària (Citizens Bill of Rights and Duties relating to health and healthcare), updated in 2015. In particular, it specifies that a person has the right to obtain accurate and reliable recommendations from health professionals in terms of the available health information on the network (web pages, applications, etc…).

It is a fact that, from different professional sectors, we are more and more frequently identifying citizens as a key group to take into consideration when communicating the outcomes of our work, including the health sector. The different actors involved in disseminating health information resulting from the Catalan health system activity are no exception. When we publish our data we do it more and more in a way that is not only aimed at informing health professionals on the one hand but also at being accountable to citizens as end users.

But have we really asked citizens what information they want to obtain from us?

From the Results Centre of the Catalan Health System Observatory we publish a series of reports annually with quantitative indicators that aim to measure, assess and disseminate the results obtained in the different areas of the public health system. Up to the present, to disseminate this information beyond the comfort zone of the health sector, we have published a series of infographics with the information that we have considered to be most relevant for citizens, making the effort to create a user friendly format.



During the first semester of 2016, we spent time reflecting on our labour and we realised that we did not in fact know whether what we were publishing for citizens really reached or interested them. We did not even know what it was that citizens wanted to receive from us. To answer these questions we carried out a qualitative study of Catalan citizens to find out what their needs for health information were, but not limiting ourselves to that produced by the Results Centre.

We created three discussion groups and invited citizens randomly selected from Registre Central d’Assegurats del CatSalut (CatSalut’s Central Registry of the Insured) to freely express what they felt their necessities for health information were. What we discovered was that the population is not interested in receiving health information in a general or systematic way but rather only wants health information when they have a specific personal need and which is directly related to what is affecting them at a given time. They are not interested, therefore, in receiving health information about the population as a whole nor of how the health system works. They state that this information is necessary but feel it is health professionals who need to have it and know how to manage it. In this way, they place their trust in the health system by dissociating themselves from this type of information.

Furthermore, they consider it of interest that the information be made available on the networks but state that, whether they actively search for it on the internet or not, what they need is to be able to contrast the information at a later stage with their primary care physician or specialist, and that it be this professional who discerns what the best information available is for each occasion. What is more, they clearly identify this professional as being the person who needs to know the health information produced systematically by the Catalan health system.

We presented the results of this study at a recent congress, to be exact, the XXXIV Congress of the Spanish Society for the Quality of Healthcare and the XXI Congress of the Andalusian Society for the Quality of Healthcare, generating a very interesting posterior debate regarding these results. One of the attendees at the congress stated their concern for the fact that citizens were not interested in receiving general health information. The debate centred on how we could educate the population into showing an interest in this information and on how to make it reach them. We believe that the key underlying question here is whether this need be done at all.

The public at large have an overwhelming amount of information at their disposal on an infinite number of different subjects on a daily basis. It seems clear that when a person has a specific need regarding their state of health they consult a professional in whom they trust. It is obvious that to us, as healthcare professionals, we will always feel that the information we produce is of such interest as to make others want to know about it, but it is also probable that our enthusiasm makes us biased when interpreting reality. We should perhaps ask ourselves whether we need to make the effort to provide the public with information they say they do not need nor interests them, and whether we are prepared to accept their decision and respect it.

Post written by Dolores Ruiz-Muñoz, Anna García-Altés and Hortènsia Aguado.