Data-driven health policy and decision-making is good news for patients

You do not have to be a financial or political expert to know that in times of austerity, inequality worsens.ย  As governments cut their budgets to reduce debt, so public services, including healthcare, tend to suffer.ย  The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that the long-standing issues faced by patients, and the inequality in healthcare provision, will only get worse.

One of these challenges is the affordability of treatment, particularly in smaller, resource-limited countries.  These nations often lack both the larger budgets and the purchasing power of bigger markets.  Unfortunately the regional or global pricing systems established by providers or regulators, do not allow the flexibility which funding-constrained countries would welcome.  

And it is not only about money but time too.  Newer, innovative medicines may quickly become available in larger markets (although at high cost).  Those who need them in smaller countries may have to wait for years.  In both these cases, it is the patients who bear the brunt of these problems.   

While the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the evolution of healthcare provision in some regards, e.g. the digitisation of healthcare, in the case of issues like access and affordability, it is just exacerbating the problem.  Potential solutions do, however, lie in the direction in which COVID-19 is encouraging healthcare providers to travel:  into the future.

Today, too many policy decisions are driven by the desire to reduce or cut costs.  It may be better for healthcare systems and patients, if more consideration is given to where investment should be made.  Of course, in order to take this more strategic and long-term approach, it is critical to have data on which to base policy.  Fortunately, one of the key developments in recent years has been the ability to collect and then analyse health data.  Using a more evidence-based methodology to drive healthcare policy and decision making, is good news for patients.

More good news comes in the increasing use of technology within the health sector.  Again, the pandemic has provided some inspiring examples and accelerated the rollout of more future-looking healthcare tools like the wider use of remote physician visits.  COVID-19 has shown us the opportunities on offer when health systems are driven by data and supported by technology.  Countries like Estonia which are early adopters in both these fields, perform as well as some of the larger European countries, for example, while spending considerably less on health.

One of the reasons this type of approach is more cost-effective is that it is 100% in line with what patients want.  And that is simply to pay for results rather than for services.  All patients want effective treatment and all healthcare systems want cost-effective treatment.   The only way to be able to track and evaluate this accurately and efficiently is of course through the use of data.  Investing in your healthcare systemโ€™s data and analytical capabilities is just one example of a cost which can deliver massive savings.

These kinds of insights, into how to build a better healthcare system, can be particularly valuable for smaller countries.  Those who are still in the process of developing their system.  Understanding where and how to make investments like those described here, enable them to โ€œleapfrogโ€ decades of learnings.  The FutureProofing Healthcare initiative, sponsored by Roche, is helping to plot a pathway to a better and future-proofed healthcare system.  Part of the initiative, the Personalised Health Index is a first-of-its-kind resource, which gives a unique overview of the current state of 34 health systems around the world.  It evaluates how the healthcare provision in those countries is progressing towards a more personalised, digital and data-driven standard.  It is a real conversation starter to help more countries to shape resilient, personalised and sustainable health systems.

And this is not one of those global rankings where size matters.  As in the case of Estonia, it is not what you spend but how you spend it, that determines success.  Every country included in the index can benefit by understanding what their strengths and weaknesses are and learning from others.  

Of course, patients can also deliver unique insights into this subject.  They experience on a daily basis the gaps in their local healthcare system, as well as the possibilities.  Patient insights are included in the Personalised Health Index and are one of the reasons it can be such a valuable tool for policy makers.  There is no perfect healthcare system but to get close to that, any system has to constantly evolve according to the needs of those who depend upon and work within it.   That is only possible if we use the latest tools available to us, like data and technology.  




Is your countryโ€™s health system prepared for the digital, personalised future of health? 


Join leading policy makers and experts for the launch of the Personalised Health Index, part of the FutureProofing Healthcare initiative. Youโ€™ll find out how your country is doing - and which countries are leading the way - in forging healthcare systems fit for the future. 

When: Thursday 15 October

Time: 10:00-11:00 CEST (9:00 BST/11:00 EET)

Click here to register and find out more.


Dr. Stanimir Hasardzhiev is one of the founders and current Chairperson of the Bulgarian National Patientsโ€™ Organization (NPO) โ€“ the biggest patientsโ€™ umbrella organisation in Bulgaria accounting for around 80 disease-specific member organisations and representing patients with different socially significant diseases in all 28 regions in Bulgaria. 

Related Articles