Conducting surveys to study the health status of the population and inform health authorities
Our team conducts the Belgian Health Interview Surveys (HIS), which are the largest health surveys countrywide. Every five years, we interview 10,000 individuals to study the evolution of the population’s health status in Belgium, and the changes at the level of the risk factors. Such information allows us to assess the health needs of the population and to identify the groups who may have more or bigger health challenges, like people with a particular socioeconomic profile or living in certain areas. The health authorities, the researchers, the experts and the press use the results of our surveys extensively in their quest for reliable information about the population’s health. We also participate in a number of national and international projects in which the data of our surveys are used.
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We report information about a wide range of health topics: physical and mental health, health related behaviors, use of healthcare and prevention services, perception of the physical and social environment, etc. We focus on information which cannot be obtained from other sources.
Our surveys allow studying time trends in various health domains. For instance, between 2008 and 2013, we have found that the percentage of people suffering from emotional disorders in Belgium had substantially increased, from 13% to 18% for depressive disorders, from 8% to 13% for anxiety disorders and from 24% to 33% for sleeping disorders. We also focus on the assessment and evolution of health disparities between social groups. Such information is key to assess the efficiency of initiatives, programs or policies.
To study time trends, the methodology and the questions of the surveys need, of course, to be comparable from one survey to another. However, the studies we organise every five years are never exactly the same:
We include new questions to address any emerging health issue or concern. For instance, in the 2013 survey, we added a set of questions linked to the patients’ experiences, to health related quality of life, etc.
We adapt our questions to the European requirements to allow comparison between Belgium and other EU member States.
We keep up with new survey technologies. For the 2018 survey, we are studying the option of a web-based solution enabling the participants to answer to the questions online.
We work towards an extension of the data collected through our health surveys with other data. For instance, in 2018, we will supplement the interviews with a health examination. Data linkages are also performed with mortality data.
Finally, we pay special attention to make our data accessible as much as possible. Micro data can be requested on a personal initiative, but the all the results are available online, in extensive reports and via an interactive tool that allows the users to conduct their own analyses. We believe that the widespread use of our data encourages the development of evidence based health policies, which in turn improve the health of the population and reduce health disparities.