How can health information cause disruption?

Herwig Ostermann, Executive Director of Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG), on disruption by health information, data as the basis for policy decisions, and the European project InfAct.

Interview: Dietmar Schobel

Mr Ostermann, how can health information cause disruption?

Herwig Ostermann: Just like any other type of new findings, health information can have a ‘disruptive’ effect as it guides our view of certain things along different lines, and can therefore reorientate or profoundly change our approach to them.

Can you give a specific example?

Herwig Ostermann: One of many possible examples is that heart attacks have long been regarded as a ‘male’ or ‘executive’ problem. However, more detailed analyses have shown that heart attacks are far more likely to be fatal for women below the age of 50 than for men, for instance, and that the long-term unemployed are more likely to suffer a heart attack than managers, whether male or female. This data can therefore be used to derive specific results for an improved diagnosis and therapy in general. People who are aware of these facts will accordingly be able to interpret potential signs of a heart attack among those groups of the population.

What is the role played by data and its analysis in relation to the health system overall?

Portrait of Herwig Ostermann, Executive Director of Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG)
Herwig Ostermann, Photo: Sebastian Freiler

Herwig Ostermann: From the perspective of Gesundheit Österreich GmbH as Austria’s national research and planning institute for the health sector, it is primarily about preparing objective data for decision-makers in such a way that measures can be derived from it that guide the health system in a direction that provides the greatest possible benefit for the population. This means on the one hand that relevant facts need to be made available rapidly, and on the other hand that they should be provided in a manner that is as clear and easy to interpret as possible. The EU project InfAct, which we are working on together with 27 other countries, aims to further improve and intensify the handling and adequate utilisation of health data through mutual transfer of knowledge.

InfACT will make it easier to compare data from European countries.


What are the objectives of InfAct?

Herwig Ostermann: InfAct is supported by the European Commission, and a total of 40 partners from 28 countries in the European Union and associated states are involved. The shared objectives include exchanging good practice models, learning from the experiences of other countries, and establishing a European architecture for health information. This also includes improving the comparability of data from different European countries, which will ultimately make it easier to compare the services and structures of the health systems. The final goal is to establish a cross-border, sustainable knowledge platform with national contacts such as the GÖG and its sister institutes.

Isn’t it possible to compare the European countries at present?

Herwig Ostermann: The specifications according to which certain parameters – such as the number of doctors and even the number of hospital beds – are measured, are actually very different in each country. Details are usually only found in the footnotes for relevant tables – if at all. At the same time, international comparisons currently frequently trigger a massive response in the media and therefore also in society and politics. Standardised data can therefore create disruption in a positive sense here: it can open up new perspectives and present the services of different health systems using more substantiated information.