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The National Institute for Health and Welfare Finland (THL) is a research and development institute under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. THL serves broader society, the scientific community and decision-makers in central government and municipalities. Its aim is to promote health and welfare in Finland. Within THL there is a Department of Health, Functional Capacity and Welfare. Its work focuses on the most important public health issues, their determinants and monitoring the health of the population and population subgroups.
The department conducts research and development work with a broad collaborative of partners to promote the health and functional capacity of Finnish people and to enhance health monitoring among population subgroups also at local area level. The department provides data that helps to fill the information gaps on health, functional capacity and wellbeing as well as intelligence on the determinants that influence them. The main information gap that has been identified is the area level monitoring of these determinants among adults. Monitoring of children’s health is also an area where further intelligence is needed.
We spoke to project manager Risto Kaikkonen at THL about data presentation and its role in helping to explain health trends to a wide user audience. According to Risto, the impetus was the need for decision makers to have a better understanding of data at a lower geographical level – lower geographical areas than regions. “We had good information about Finland and the regions but not down to local area level. Questionnaire-based data on lifestyles and citizens’ personal experiences are not often available at the local level or even at the regional level. Area level health monitoring with the ability to follow-up trends among population subgroups is needed. This is also a statutory responsibility for municipalities in Finland,” says Risto.
“With InstantAtlas (IA) we have been able to combine five or six different data sources with required confidence intervals which we weren’t able to do with other reporting systems. Also the ability to present results with profile reports is helpful. The added value in profile reports is that we can now include sub-groups in monitoring. This is especially helpful when it comes to combining data on socio-economic status.”
Meeting the need
The department has a key role in developing systems to monitor health inequalities. This involves collecting area-level survey and register data that includes socioeconomic status and disseminating the results. To fill the information gap with respect to adults the department has launched new Regional Health and Well-Being Study (ATH). Risto is the responsible researcher of the ATH and he says data visualisation has enabled the team to spend more time on analysis of trends and on academic research. “Half of our time can now be spent on understanding trends and doing further analyses. In addition decision makers are able to make better decisions based on what the interactive reports show,” he says.
The feedback from users has been good and the ability to go deeper into the data has been especially welcome. Risto says researchers are also pleased because they can now produce short reports quickly as the results are quick to access.
Risto is hoping to include more detail and tailored profile reports. In the future more trends will be added along with commentary to give better meaning for the results. The aim is to include IA reports with more descriptive information on the relevance and interpretation of the results. “Numbers need definitions,” he says.
“We look on this as a resource that we can develop so I expect that in the future more data sets will be included, It is likely that we will be able to produce reports showing how resources are being used - which will be useful for funding bodies,” he says.
Other benefits are:
Risto says: “Finnish municipalities and cities have broad responsibilities: providing their citizens with social and health care services, education and cultural services; supervising activities affecting the environment; promoting employment and commerce and in preventive work. Moreover, the 2011 revised Health Care Act obligates municipalities to follow the health of their population and its subgroups. InstantAtlas helps THL to produce reliable information needed.”
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