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12 September 2018updated 24 Jul 2021 3:12pm

WHO is starting to measure Europeans’ “life satisfaction” in new approach to data

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is looking to significantly improve the collection and use of health information with a number of new initiatives.

By Arun Kakar

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is developing a series of initiatives in Europe to encourage a “harmonised and interoperable” information system across the continent.

Speaking at the launch of the WHO report “More than numbers – evidence for all”, Dr Claudia Stein, director of WHO’s European research unit, admitted that the practice of submitting health information from member countries to the organisation can often be “fragmented”.

The report assesses the progress of European nations towards the objectives of Health 2020, its Europe-wide health policy framework established in 2013. The organisation said that “a great deal has been achieved” towards its targets, but better communication of health information is an “urgent priority”.

The report outlines a shift from collecting purely statistical data to more subjective measures such as “life satisfaction” and wellbeing in order to better understand health trends across the continent. Qualitative evidence taken from disciplines outside the health sector are being used to give different insights into the experiences of individuals and communities.

“We at WHO are working with European countries, using cutting-edge methods of collecting qualitative evidence to supplement numbers,” said Stein. “This enables us to bring health information, health research and knowledge translation together to better understand Europeans’ experiences and needs, and to strengthen policy-making for public health.”

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Speaking at the launch, Stein said that the fact that multiple organisations within a country submit information often leads to an “uncoordinated” process.

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She said that the WHO is working to add new health themes to its European Health Information Gateway, a “one-stop shop” for health information, policy documents, tools and “narrative” presentations of data set up in 2016. The goal, said Stein, is to evolve the Gateway from an information resource to a “communication tool”. WHO Europe is also setting up a “high-level” taskforce on big data in Europe, which will explore the uses of big data “systematically” and work to communicate health information to citizens.

The new methods form part of the WHO’s Health Information Initiative, which aims to “mainstream” health information, research and knowledge translation into health policy. With a mandate to enhance the health of the European region, the report argues that an overarching information system is “the only realistic way” to harness the power of data to influence policy and “positively change societal outcomes”.

“Improving the generation, analysis, use and communication of health information is an urgent priority,” says the report. “In particular, in order to communicate information effectively, it may be necessary to adopt an approach involving storytelling techniques, and face-to-face interviews and stakeholder discussions may be needed to fully discern the health experience of local communities.”