Sometimes the most crucial question to ask in healthcare is ‘why?’ Why is someone sick, why will this or that treatment help them, why are things not going to plan. To find the right answers, we first need to ask the right questions and ‘why?’ is among the most important.
And it’s exactly the same process with data in healthcare. The data is not the solution, rather it is the means by which we are prompted to ask more incisive questions that will hopefully lead us to more meaningful answers. A set of data is not a fait accompli but provides the groundwork for an accurate assessment of what more can be done.
Currently, across Europe, much more needs to be done if we are to create healthcare systems that more directly respond to the needs of patients, and keep citizens healthy– and also respond to the needs of generations to come. Data can help us to understand what does and doesn’t work, which needs are being met and which ones aren’t, where the greatest burdens lie and where more investment is needed.
The FutureProofing Healthcare Index is a ground-breaking attempt at getting to these insights. As a consultant on the project, it’s clear to me how collating information from thousands of data points is going to be crucial in governmental efforts to refashion their healthcare systems.
For instance, the Index data shows quite clearly that the correlation between successful outcomes and health spending is not always as one would expect – sometimes the efficacy of healthcare systems that enjoy high budgets leaves a little to be desired.
So, if the resources are there but the results are not, asking questions becomes even more revelatory than the data itself. What is happening beneath the surface? What is the data not showing us? Why are there certain impediments to successful diagnosis and treatment?
Lifestyle issues perhaps or cultural differences - diet, working conditions, self-perceptions, geographies, family, income, social habits. Systemic issues that impede successful actions and behaviours. A need to reallocate resources towards prevention.
These are just a few of the potential answers that need to be taken into account alongside the raw data. As a partner at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, it’s why I believe the Index is so important to further our understanding about healthcare’s future. No system of measurement can ever claim to be perfect but this is a welcome step in the right direction.
Because there are so many data points in so many different countries, it forces different nations to come together and face the challenge of refashioning our healthcare systems so that they can better serve today’s societies and those to come.
A project like this demands that all of us who work in healthcare, who represent the media and hold decision-making positions of influence, analyse the data intelligently rather than focus on which country comes where in performance tables, who spends the most and who lives longest. Certainly, those comparative measurements are important but discussions that go deeper yield even greater insights.
Initiatives such as the Index can inspire those discussions because they provide a simple and clear overview that all of us can share instantly. Think of it as the democratisation of data. Instead of having to search around for different measurements carried out by myriad organisations with alternative methodologies, this is an attempt to assemble the crucial data in a usable and acceptable format and shows us what is happening. In a broad sense but also with genuine insight.
Up to a point, anyway. If we are to make the most of the index we need to remember to ask why. And to look beyond what is in front of us to find the unknown missing ingredients. The Index is not complete. It shows us what we need to repair, what changes need to be made, why performance is as wildly divergent as it is - but not how we can resolve these issues.
To fill those gaps, all European countries need to collaborate and have robust discussions about the future. The Index is an extremely valuable record of now. It’s our responsibility to focus on tomorrow, and the changes we need to make to create more sustainable, responsive and effective healthcare systems.