Making health systems more accountable

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Measuring health systems' performance contributes to improving the health system and making it more accountable to users. Policy-makers from 52 of the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region met in Brussels on 29-30 March 2007 to discuss how this is done.

The importance of evaluating performance is gaining ground and countries increasingly acknowledge the need to collect useful and relevant information. Today, policy-makers need to consider not just how to use their findings to manage and improve the health system, but how best to summarize and report these data to the public.

The European Region is diverse, but all countries face the dilemma of how to make their health systems work best, despite limited resources and increasing costs. The meeting will outline the various approaches available to assess performance, and identify good practices through country examples. Specific issues on the agenda are monitoring, benchmarking and accountability, transparency and patient empowerment, and the links with financial incentives and regulatory instruments.

"Informing people about how their health system performs in a comprehensible, transparent way, puts power into patients' hands. It opens a more meaningful debate on how resources are used, and makes the system accountable to those it is there to serve. WHO is committed to help countries find an assessment framework that is appropriate to their own context and circumstances," says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and hosted by the Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment of Belgium, the meeting is the first in a series being held in preparation for the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Health Systems planned for 2008.

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"Assessing health systems' performance is vital to improving health. The WHO Regional Office for Europe is guiding a broader exploration of the links between health systems, health and wealth. Evidence is growing that an effective health system contributes to the wealth of a country, and the Ministerial Conference in 2008 is being organized to provide Member States with the tools to strengthen their health systems. The discussions in Brussels this week are a useful contribution to this wider debate," says Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The WHO European Ministerial Conference on Health Systems

The Conference will take place in Tallinn, Estonia, on 18-20 June 2008. It is being organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, as requested by Member States at the fifty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, and will be hosted by the Government of Estonia.

Its aim is to place health systems high on the political agenda. Specifically, the Conference will provide greater understanding of the impact of health systems on people's health and therefore on economic growth in the WHO European Region. In addition, it will take stock of recent evidence on effective strategies to improve the performance of health systems, given the increasing pressures they operate under to ensure sustainability and solidarity.

Following the meeting to assess health systems' performance in Brussels, three additional preparatory events will discuss integrated health care, human resources for health, and the governance of public health.

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