Specialised health training and indicators to measure the quality of teaching

7 Jun
Alicia Avila

To work as a specialist in the health system -in any speciality in medicine, pharmacy, psychology, nursing or other- not only do you need to have a university degree but also the corresponding specialist qualification. To get it you need to pass the selective test traditionally known as the MIR in Spain (national specialisation examination) for specialist doctors, PIR for psychologists, FIR for hospital pharmacists, to give some examples and which has been done annually for more than 30 years. The training of specialists in the Health System is done in public and private health centres and teaching venues, previously accredited, to which professionals have access once they have passed the selection process, in rigorous order of registration.

The allocation of chosen places for this year recently finalised and the residents took up their places at the end of May. The specialist health press has made use of all kinds of headlines, commenting on the results of autonomous communities, the most sought after specialties by residents or the best positioned centres. Nevertheless, not all the comments that have been published, sometimes too hastily, contain an accurate and rigorous analysis. The ability of centres to attract teaching staff in Catalonia has not regressed nor changed much in recent years; the hospitals and teaching centres most sought after in Family and Community Care by new residents are still the same at a state level.

Why is it important to be an attractive teaching centre for residents? Obviously, because all centres aspire to have the students with the best marks, not only for the prestige that this has or for the base of knowledge they have shown to have, but also because of the possibility of retaining them and contracting them at the end of their residency. The lower the mark in the MIR, the greater the chances are of abandoning a speciality and in practice a significant number of foreign residents are seen as having greater difficulties for future employment.

To promote the intrinsic and perceived quality in specialised training given to residents, the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya has implemented a Management Plan of Teaching Quality and within this, a set of structural, procedural and results indicators related to the places offered, which have been published in a report since last year at the Central de Resultats (Results Centre, Catalan Health System Observatory) under the auspices of the AQuAS.

Furthermore, a survey of satisfaction is carried out with all residents in Catalonia which has had an effective participation of 76% this year and which offers complementary information to that of the Plan of Quality. Both instruments, beyond the fact of generating transparency and information regarding a healthy specialist training, make it possible to benchmark different centres with the aim of achieving greater competitivity and improved teaching in Catalonia.

Ultimately, guaranteeing profiles of excellence of specialist health professionals is the permanent aspiration of the Health Authority via a learning process based on supervised and mentored practice to attain the necessary professional skills to offer a safe and high quality practice. In this way, the health system will be capable of training better specialists to meet the needs of the population in health.

Post written by Alícia Avila, Assistant Director-General of Professional Planning and Development. Health Department.

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.

Indicators for assessing care for chronicity

10 Nov

In a previous post we discussed the advantages of using indicators in the assessment of health services. At AQuAS we have been applying indicators to assess different care processes and areas, with care for patients suffering from chronic conditions being one of the principal areas of interest in terms of new care models and programs assessment. Interventions in the field of care for chronicity are extremely complex given that by their very nature, they tend to involve multiple actors and many different levels of care concurrently, as well as different elements utilising therapeutic instruments and technology with very variable intensity. Moreover, their effectiveness is often linked to contextual factors, making it difficult to attribute an outcome to a particular component of the program. So, given this level of complexity, the question remains, why should we be using indicators in this area? The answer is that these indicators may provide us with several benefits compared to other assessment approaches, such as:

  • Incorporating professional opinion and consensus
  • The possibility of including structural and procedural indicators allows us to obtain an understanding of the environment and the reality in which the initiative is being implemented
  • Providing a type of assessment that is more accessible and understandable for professionals
  • Greater simplicity and speed in evaluation and obtaining results
  • Possibility of defining standards
  • Allowing comparisons to be established and objectifying trends
  • Identifying successful characteristics and factors that can define which models are most effective, for which groups of chronic patients, in what context and at what cost

The first project in which AQuAS began using quality of care indicators for assessing chronicity got underway in 2012 with the commission by the Program for Prevention and Care for Chronicity (PPAC) to define a set of indicators to assess the quality of integrated care programs for chronicity within the health sector, where an ‘integrated program’ is understood as those programs involving the coordinated participation of different levels of care. Following the methodology described in the previous post (review of literature, establishing a theoretical framework and expert opinions) a total of 18 indicators were obtained, mainly from intermediate and final results, which experts considered relevant and feasible for assess these types of programs and which are currently being implemented (see table 1 and web).

Table 1: Indicators assessed as relevant and feasible for evaluating integrated care programs for chronicity

indicadors-2-en-1

From this experience, AQuAS developed a proposal for indicators, published recently to, assess chronic care as part of the strategy for tackling chronicity within the National Health System. As a result of this work, a set of indicators considered to be crucial for evaluation emerged, which included several previously prioritized indicators which are repeated such as polymedication, avoidable readmissions and hospitalisations, but which incorporates new factors which are more closely associated with the patients’ experience, such as the assessment of the patients’ and carers’ quality of life, or patients’ lifestyles (see Table 2).

Table 2: Proposal for prioritized indicators for promoting more uniform measurement of the entire National Health System for evaluating of chronicity care strategies

indicadors-2-en-2

Later, from 2014 onwards, the Catalan Institute of Healthcare and Social Services (ICASS – Dpt. Social Welfare and Family) and the PPAC (Health Dept.), commissioned extensive work to be carried out in evaluating collaborative social and health care models in Catalonia. These models not only consider the different levels of care in the health system but also include social services, a crucial aspect in caring for patients in this category. The objectives of the project were to outline the organization and operations of these collaborative experiences, identify barriers and facilitators, propose a conceptual framework for assessment and define a set of well-founded indicators based on feedback from participants and the expertise acquired from previous assessment studies. The proposed indicators continue to take into account traditional indicators while consolidating assessment that includes the views of those involved, not just the patient, but also the caregivers and professionals, and placing special emphasis on the evaluation of the coordinated actions of healthcare and social services, for example considering the avoidance of duplicate processes or carrying out joint social and healthcare initiatives.

We must also highlight in this line of work the efforts undertaken by the ITES FORUM (Forum of innovation, transformation and excellence in health and social services) to define a joint health and social services evaluation framework with a proposal of indicators (line L6) and in which AQuAS is also involved jointly with professionals from different fields. The Forum is a tool to facilitate the necessary conceptual debate required for transforming existing social services and healthcare in favour of a new model of integrated care.

Finally, and to continue discussing the area of assessing the integration of health and social services, since 2015 AQuAS has been involved in the Horizon2020 SUSTAIN (Sustainable tailored integrated care for older people in Europe) project. This European project aims to compare, assess and implement strategies to improve integrated care experiences aimed at non-institutionalized elderly individuals, in other words, those living in their own homes. The project has an additional goal, which is to seek to ensure that the best integrated care initiatives in this area are applicable and adaptable to other European health systems and regions. The project involves seven European countries working simultaneously on the basis of the definition and implementation of a set of indicators pending definition, tailored to this type of population and integrative approach.

Indicators, therefore, are useful tools for assessing an area as large and as complex as chronicity and they can be applied from a broader or narrower perspective, in other words, taking into account not only the different levels of care in the health system, but also including social services. The results obtained from the implementation of these indicators will provide professionals with objective criteria regarding the quality of their interventions, by facilitating the identification of the strengths of chronic care programs, as well as areas with scope for improvement.

Post written by Noemí Robles, Laia Domingo i Mireia Espallargues. Àrea d’Avaluació, AQuAS.

Indicators for the health services assessment

4 Feb

What are indicators and how to set them?

In the clinical evaluation field, specifically for health care, an indicator in an instrument used to measure or assess specifici aspects of quality of care, and ultimately, the improvement of quality: assessment to improve.

The methodology used for creating or developing health indicators is distinct in that it combines different methodologies. In the first place, when elaborating indicators, the standard and most recommended procedure is to begin with a conceptual framework of reference, as this provides the premise for reflecting aspects of assessment, dimension, attributes, key areas of care specific to the field of study, as well as the target population. Moreover, the process of defining indicators takes into consideration two sources: scientific evidence experience and expert opinion.

A literature review enables authors to take into consideration scientific evidence and experience in the use of the indicator. A review of the scientific evidence ensures the validity of both the construct, (the indicator measures the intended target), as well as the guidelines (there is close correlation between an indicator and the outcome or another measure considered the gold standard). In addition, previous experience in the application of an indicator provides some basis as to its acceptability or use thereof. Generally, users find an indicator helpful if variations in the values it presents are ​​due to changes in the quality of care, and vice versa.

As far as expert opinion is concerned, it is important to highlight the advantages to using consensus methods during the process of identification and selection of indicators, a highly participative course of action. In general, the process is based on a consensus-centred approach (i.e., a group of professional experts which may, in addition, incorporate opinions from a group of patients and users), which is subsequently extended to a larger body of associated groups. Thus, the involvement of a significant number of participants in reaching a consensus on indicators reinforces the embeddedness of the assessment strategy and collective responsibility, furthering the eventual adoption and implementation of the indicators.

Figure 1. Combination of methodologies for developing indicators

Methodologies Developing Indicators

How to implement indicators?

Once the indicators have been defined, there are several different approaches to their implementation. These include performance analysis and comparison between units of analysis, or benchmarking, whether this refers to organizations, centres, services, teams or professionals. The first approach seeks to analyse the relationship between health outcomes (in quantity and quality) and the resources utilized, in other words, the value of health care. The objective is to identify the gap between what might be achieved using existing technology and resources (efficiency, the maximum achievable potential), and what is actually being achieved (effectiveness), adjusted due to the available resources and other variables which impact the outcome.

Figure 2. An example of mapping indicators used to analyse performance. In this case, the graph maps the ratio of observed/expected cases for the indicator subject to the study for Basic Healthcare Areas (ABS, as per the Catalan acronym).

Mapping

Source: Metodologia dels atles de variacions en la pràctica mèdica del SISCAT. Atles de variacions del SISCAT, número 0. Barcelona: Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya. Departament de Salut. Generalitat de Catalunya; 2014.

Finally, if the process is taken to the next level, we find ourselves in the realms of benchmarking, which allows us to make a comparative assessment. Basically, this involves using any product, service or work process within an organisation and which manifest best practises in the area of interest and using it as “comparator” or benchmark. The objective of this process is to transmit information regarding best practices and their implementation.

Figure 3. Sample mapping of an indicator used to make comparisons between units of analysis (benchmarking)

Comparisons

Source: Metodologia dels atles de variacions en la pràctica mèdica del SISCAT. Atles de variacions del SISCAT, número 0. Barcelona: Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya. Departament de Salut. Generalitat de Catalunya; 2014.

Post written by Mireia Espallargues, Noemí Robles and Laia Domingo.