Evidence-Informed Health Policy-Making Opinion Piece
Evidence-informed health policy-making can be defined as a method of using the best available research to inform decision making. Policy is a guideline or plan of action towards achieving a certain desirable outcome. Policy can be in the form of government laws, regulations, programs and involve a multitude of stakeholders in the policy-making process. Using evidence to develop and inform complex health policy decision-making is increasingly becoming crucial in Canadian Polity.
Through my studies, I have learnt that evidence-informed medicine and evidence-informed healthcare involves decision-making by health-care professionals that will have a positive impact on patient health. This practice has been extended to the policy domain involving different players (government, not-for-profit, private, community interest groups) to utilize sound, objective evidence to influence and guide decision-making impacting population health.
Being able to use the best available, objective evidence will allow policy-makers to make informed decisions on issues such as how to provide equitable access to healthcare to improve health outcomes. Government is accountable to the public for how resources are used to inform health policy decisions that have an impact on citizens health. There is a belief that political agendas shape health policy. While political agendas shape public policy, public engagement is also critical as we are providing service to meet the needs of the public. During the decision-making stage, consultations with the public, private, government, stakeholders, voluntary and community sectors take place to influence decision-making. The policy proposals are drafted with the different policy options and the preferred option based on objective evidence and considerations of policy consultations. Using an unbiased, non-partisan evidence-informed health policy-making approach does not lead to a conclusion, rather provides reliable facts that support a decision and reduce the risk of uncertainty.
Evidence can help clarify the types of health intervention programs that should be offered to different community groups, mode of service delivery and at what cost. Evidence allows policy-makers to assess the quality, effectiveness and feasibility of programs. Also, evidence helps measure impact and establishes what type of programs can have a positive impact on the lives of recipients resulting in more effective service delivery. Sound research can improve the whole policy-making process by adding value to the work for the researchers, policy-makers, funders and community groups that are impacted.
Currently, working for the government as a Research and Statistical Officer has enabled me to better understand how evidence as a best practice can help inform health policy decision-making. Conducting environmental scans of different jurisdictions and analyzing what issues such as physician shortages, long waitlists mean for the health of Canadians and what we can do to assist physicians to provide the best type of quality care to patients.
In conclusion, evidence-informed health policy-making has emerged as necessary to inform expertise required for policy decision making. Objective, quantitative evidence supplements the other various methods of information (qualitative opinions and interests through consultations) used in making policy choices. Evidence should be used in defining the issue, design, service delivery and evaluation of programs. Strengthening the ability of policy-makers to use evidence to assess quality, feasibility and impact of health policy will lead to more effective use of scarce resources and allow for significant health transformations.