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Mathematical method exposes differences between social and healthcare providers

A more comprehensive assessment of service quality makes it possible to cut social and healthcare spending without affecting the quantity or quality of the services.

The social and healthcare reform is gradually progressing through the Finnish Parliament, but no indices have yet been set for measuring service performance or for comparing the performance of different healthcare units. A new doctoral study from Aalto University’s Department of Mathematics and Systems Analysis presents a method for comparing social and healthcare providers with each other.

Yrjänä Hynninen, who defended his doctoral thesis in March, applied in his work the computational REA method (ratio-based efficiency analysis) for comparing healthcare units, which was developed by his supervisor Professor Ahti Salo and Professor Antti Punkka. According to Hynninen, the method can be used to assess social and healthcare services as a whole and compare different service providers and social and healthcare units.

‘The purpose of the REA method is to describe the activities of a healthcare unit in as multifaceted a manner as possible by comparing an overall assessment composed of different factors. This kind of assessment would not encourage service providers to artificially focus on only one quality index at the expense of other ones’, Hynninen explains.

The important factors to be measured and assessed include the effectiveness and timing of treatments, clinical quality, process efficiency and customer satisfaction.

‘There are often well established indices for different factors, but these are rarely examined together’, Hynninen points out.

Using this method, it is possible to generate comprehensive data about the quality and impact of healthcare unit operations, and the service coordinator can compare the area’s service providers with one another in a coordinated manner. With this public information at their disposal, customers can make considered choices between service providers – thus providing ‘freedom of choice’. At the same time, healthcare units will know from the comparative data what works well and what needs to be improved.

In his doctoral work, Hynninen used REA-method particularly for the comparison of healthcare services in Scotland. The quality criteria being compared included how long patients waited between getting a medical examination and receiving treatment, the quantity of hospital bacteria infections and waiting times in A&E.

For Finland’s social and healthcare reform, the equivalent quality indices and principles for comparing healthcare units are still under development.

‘Once the quality indices have been specified, the REA method can be used to clearly and comprehensively compare the quality and performance of the services of different healthcare units.’

There may be dozens of comparative quality indices for a single social and healthcare unit, so comparing the units with each other and forming an overall picture of the situation becomes complicated and unclear. By making use of the work of the dissertation, units can make decisions based on a comprehensive analysis that deals well with uncertainty.

‘When the best operating practices can be identified, they can then be made use of elsewhere as well. In this way, limited resources can be allocated wisely and greater health benefits can be achieved’, Hynninen emphasises.

Further information:

Yrjänä Hynninen
Aalto University
[email protected]lto.fi
tel. +358 50 407 5320

Ahti Salo
Professor
Aalto University
[email protected]
tel. +358 50 383 0636

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