OECD calls for stronger evidence on health inequalities
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OECD calls for stronger evidence on health inequalities

Evidence must play a bigger role in directing work on health inequalities in OECD countries, according a new report.

Action to address the inequality in health status and in health care access can only be measured effectively if appropriate health indicators are available. 

“These policy objectives require an evidence-based approach to measure progress,” the report says.

“The effort made to improve data availability and comparability will determine whether health inequalities can be regularly monitored across most or all OECD Countries,” the report adds.

Suggested evidence which could be used to demonstrate health inequalities includes self-rated health, self-rated disability, the extent of public health care coverage and private health insurance coverage, and self-reported unmet medical and dental care needs.

The findings are supported by a WHO report on the social determinants of health, which says that the most effective policies to tackle health inequalities are those based on strong evidence.

“Evidence-based policy-making on the social determinants of health offers the best hope of tackling health inequities,” the WHO report says.

“This requires good data on the extent of the problem, and up-to-date evidence on the determinants and on what works to reduce health inequities. It also requires an understanding of the evidence, among policy-makers and practitioners, such that social determinants of health are acted on,” the WHO report adds.

Survey-based measures of health status are currently the most widely-used method of collecting information about the inequalities which exist, according to the OECD document.

“Health-related surveys remain a unique source of data in most countries to measure socioeconomic inequalities in health status and health care access and use,” the report says.

However when it comes to monitoring these health inequalities and comparing the data across countries, the report stresses that there must be common agreement among countries as to the definitions and measurement instruments used in the process.

“The comparability of data across countries depends on the harmonisation of questions and other aspects of survey methodologies,” the report says.

The report is part of the OECD Health Working Papers and can be downloaded here.

The WHO report on the social determinants of health can be found at the website of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.

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