What determines Europeans’ attitudes towards vaccination? What’s the link between COVID-19 and the decline in blood donations? How can we measure hospital quality performance? And how can such insights be translated into better care? The IQCE (Improving Quality of Care in Europe) project has provided answers to these and other important healthcare questions, making a tangible difference for decision-makers and care professionals as they deal with the fallout from the pandemic. The project created a European Training Network (ETN) under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions framework, connecting and supporting health economics researchers at doctoral level from different European universities. While the ETN’s work was not limited to the effects of COVID-19, a key part of the research effort has been focusing on the current health emergency to identify concrete pathways for emerging stronger from the crisis.
Getting the jab
The European COvid Survey (ECOS), conducted every 2 months since April 2020, looked at public opinion on topics such as containment policies and vaccination in seven European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom). Willingness to get the jab varies from one country to another, but one pattern is similar across the seven countries surveyed: “Trust in vaccines is of high importance – and trust is achieved by information,” says Jonas Schreyögg, IQCE project coordinator and professor of Health Care Management at the University of Hamburg, which hosted the project. “78 % of those who follow the news very closely would like to get vaccinated, against 42 % of those who are less well informed.”
To increase uptake, the researchers therefore proposed targeted information campaigns for population groups whose lower educational status and media consumption make them more difficult to reach. The ECOS has become an important tool for informing both decision-makers and the public. It has been quoted in nearly all large print media of the seven countries surveyed and saw almost 44 million online visits. Funding has been secured to continue the survey beyond the IQCE project’s duration. Vaccine acceptance is not the only area where the project has delivered new data enabling more focused communication. Research carried out by IQCE fellow Torsten Chandler for example highlighted that blood donations – negatively impacted by COVID-19 – could be boosted by campaigns targeting repeat donors rather than first-time donors.
In addition to research with a strong empirical focus, the network also helped to develop new research approaches. For instance, IQCE fellow Angela Meggiolaro developed a hospital quality index using administrative data from a statutory health insurer in Germany. The index was replicated across several European countries and could potentially help to improve standards by encouraging quality-based competition. If the health crisis has taught us one thing, it’s that countries cannot go it alone: “More coordination and collaboration is needed among European countries to boost the quality of care for all European citizens – also beyond the pandemic,” Schreyögg notes, citing the sharing of hospital bed capacities across borders as a case in point. The IQCE project put this approach into practice. “Through active cooperation and communication, we have facilitated Europe-wide coordination of health economic research,” he says. Work is currently underway to create a joint doctoral degree programme to further strengthen Europe’s health innovation capacity.
IQCE, quality of care, European Training Network, ETN, ECOS, COVID-19, pandemic, health economics, vaccination