U of T home to first North American academic hub for health system comparison

February 10/2017


The University of Toronto is the first academic hub of the North American Observatory on Health Systems and Policies (NAO), which held its launch event on February 6, 2017 at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME).

“Canada has one of the most decentralized health system models in the world, but until now, there hasn’t been an independent, national body linking evidence and policy,” said Professor Greg Marchildon, founding director of the NAO and Ontario Research Chair in Health Policy and System Design at IHPME.

“The NAO will enable comparison between provinces and territories, and between Canadian jurisdictions with other jurisdictions, and then reassemble the information in a useful format for governments so they can make more evidence-informed policy decisions.”

Inspired by the structure and mission of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, the NAO is a collaborative partnership of independent researchers, research organizations, governments and health organizations promoting evidence-informed health system policy decision-making. It will focus on state and provincial health systems in North America to create a foundation for more systematic health system and policy comparisons among sub-states.

A number of health system and policy luminaries attended the NAO launch event, including The Honourable Roy Romanow, Former Premier and Chair of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care and Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Bob Bell, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Health and Long-Term Care; Maureen O’Neil, President of the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement; and Dr. Richard Saltman, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and Associate Director of Research Policy at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies in Brussels.

One notable speaker was Dr. Saltman who provided an overview of the United States’ broad republican strategy on health care. He suggested that given the looming reversal of the Affordable Care Act and growing populist movements globally, the NAO couldn’t have come at a better time politically.

This is the first such entity for North America, though there are similar observatories in Europe and Asia, and Marchildon plans to expand the NAO by creating academic hubs in the United States and Mexico, and eventually Central America and the Caribbean.

“U of T is the natural home for the NAO because we have the largest and most productive group of scholars who are trained to create and use evidence to design, implement and evaluate health policy,” said Adalsteinn Brown, Director of the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.

The Honourable Roy Romanow, a celebrated Canadian health care and social justice champion, closed the event with a powerful call to action (paraphrased):

The road to evidence may be rocky and uncomfortable, involve compromise and opposition that is stiff and strong, but we cannot deny that the power of evidence, and strength in diversity, will enable boundless opportunity for Canada.