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Provincial Governments Making Good Use of Health Data

Matthew Sheriko, Experience Congress 2011

More active collection and interpretation of health data is helping to improve healthcare policy in Manitoba.

Pat Martens is the director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy based at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of medicine.  The Centre collects health relevant data of many different categories from disease rates to how socioeconomic status effects people’s health.  From that it produces reports and analysis to help inform policy and decision makers.

The Centre works closely with government, regional health authorities and other researchers and provides them with findings to support their initiatives.

They’re one of the groups behind adjustments to healthcare delivery and policy.

“You don’t just crunch data.  You’ve got to make it understandable, otherwise it’s pretty useless,” said Martens.  “It’s like ice cubes.  You’ve got to melt those graphs.  You’ve got to melt those ice cubes and make them into stories so that the sponge and or the decision maker can absorb that information and put it into practice, or policy.”

The Centre also produces publications to raise awareness to their findings.

“We try to give the stories [reports] of our data to try to put it into action.  Making your stories based on evidence.  So evidence based storytellers can lead to evidence informed decision making,” said Martens.

The publications answer questions like: “Are vaccinations causing serious side effects in Manitobans?”  To which they answer, in short form: “No. Nothing we found supports that claim.”  Their long answer to the question builds on that to explain their research on the subject.

“If I were to eradicate every cause of cancer death today in North America.  That would only increase life expectancy by three years,” said Martens, highlighting the wide range of factors involved in improving healthcare.  “So if you see a differential like that you know there’s a lot going on that needs to be addressed.”

She spoke as a part of a symposium on “New Uses for Government Administrative Data.”  Also speaking were representatives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP], Statistics Canada, and the New Brunswick Privacy Commission, as well as from Malmo University in Sweden speaking on Sweden’s Personal Number System.

Photo: Matthew Sheriko


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