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Statistics are vital in healthcare, and here is why

 Why statistics are vital in healthcare (Photo: iStock)

The world is full of numerical data. In fact, nearly everything and anything can be converted into numbers. Such numbers can then be analysed to make sense of what they indicate.

The correct term for such analysis is statistics. Governments and businesses rely on all sorts of enumerated data to drive policies, review performance and make appropriate projections.

Healthcare too is driven by statistics. All aspects of medical care can be displayed as numbers. These numbers can tell us how your care was delivered, what your outcome was and how the healthcare facility performed relative to defined criteria.

Examples of medical stats include the number of patients dying of a condition (mortality rate), the number of children being born (birth rate), and simple stats like the number of patients seen on a given day. So why should you care about healthcare stats? Simple, such statistics will give you an overall view of what to expect when you access care at a given facility. Suppose you suffer a stroke and can be taken to more than five facilities close to your locality.

And suppose that each of such facilities has readily available data on survival rates for patients with stroke who seek their services. Your risk of dying increases several-fold if you end up in the facility with the highest mortality rates for stroke. Where you should go therefore becomes obvious.

When it comes to med stats, any health condition can be scrutinised. If you are undergoing a surgical procedure, you need to know some numbers.

How many such procedures has your surgeon done? And what has happened to similar patients in terms of hospital stay, complication rates, cost etc? Think of any outcomes that are of interest to you, and get your healthcare provider to crunch out the numbers. This way, you will be making objective decisions about your healthcare.

All this smells of a league table, but why not? You'll find league tables in sports, the hospitality industry and many other service-oriented businesses. In fact, healthcare provider ratings, all based on numbers, are commonplace in North America and Europe. This allows patients to select hospitals and sort them by objective ratings for specific medical conditions. Such formal ratings are unfortunately unavailable locally.

For meaningful application, healthcare data must continually be collected and regularly analysed. And such data must truly reflect the state of affairs. External validation of the data must be possible. Comparing healthcare facilities not only veers patients to top performers but also motivates poor performers to improve. It's in your interest to seek out medical stats.

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