How open data is changing the way Uruguayans choose their health care

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A Tu Servicio’s website, where Uruguayans can compare health care data in a meaningful way.

Every year in February, Uruguayans have the option to change their health service providers in an open enrollment period. For the last few years, key performance indicators on providers have been published in spreadsheets on the website of the Ministry of Health, but only a few actually knew about the existence of the data, and hardly anyone ever consulted it. But, this year, the number of citizens accessing the data before making a decision increased dramatically.

Why?

In order to promote more informed health choices, DATA Uruguay, a Montevideo-based transparency organization, decided to create a tool to visualize the information provided by the government. Developed in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and launched in February 2015, A Tu Servicio (Spanish for “At Your Service”) allows users to browse among the vast amount of data about health care providers, compare performance indicators and get in touch with providers directly if need be.

In just four days after it’s launch, A Tu Servicio multiplied the amount of people accessing the data by several hundreds. The tool has sparked a broad debate on the quality of the information gathered and disclosed by the government, as well as the ministry’s data collection methods. Uruguayan media even investigated into some of the errors revealed by greater publicity. Health service providers finally started to care about their own performance indicators — something that never happened in the small Latin American country before, not even with the data available in plain spreadsheets.

But how do we know if the available data had any impact on the actual choices of Uruguayans?

In short, we don’t know for sure. What we do know, however, is that compared to the very few who ever downloaded the spreadsheets published by the ministry before, this year’s data have been viewed by a huge number of citizens hungry for such information — and providers are now paying attention to the feedback they are receiving.

The next step for DATA Uruguay is to find out how its tool is making long-lasting change for the country’s health care system. And its vision for change is pretty ambitious: In the next few years, the small team hopes that people in Uruguay will make more informed decisions about health issues based on complete, granular, reliable and accessible information, and there will be greater demand from citizens on health-related data. The team also hopes that people will be more engaged in the monitoring and evaluation of health care services, which might eventually inform reform. That said, DATA Uruguay also understands that long-lasting impact requires time and investment, which is why it’s actively looking to keep this project sustainable.

In the past few months, we at Sunlight have been working closely with the DATA Uruguay team to develop a theory of change and an assessment framework for their project. You can find out more about the project in this blog post, or this study.