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Performance Health Indicators

Subject Matter

Health Canada wanted to conduct qualitative research on issues related to a report on health indicators. This report, the result of a First Ministers federal-provincial agreement on the development of a set of standard health performance indicators, was published in Fall 2002 (provincial governments also published their own reports). In advance of its publication, no research had been conducted on the content or format/style of the federal report. The purpose of this research, therefore, was to gauge the extent to which the approach used to report on health performance indicators met the needs of Canadians. Specifically, the objectives were to ascertain whether the federal report met the set of objectives established by the First Ministers, to identify what participants liked and disliked about the report (content, writing style, format, etc.), and to identify what people would like to have included in future reports (e.g. additional information, new health indicators).


A set of 10 focus groups was conducted, with two groups in each of Halifax, Montreal (French), Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Three target audiences were recruited: Canadians who had graduated from college or university, Canadians with high school education but no post-secondary education, and Aboriginal Canadians. The groups were 2 ˝ hours in length to allow participants to review extracts from the report after discussing related issues without being influenced by the report. Approximately 8-10 participants took part in each group. Focus groups were selected for this research because of the need for qualitative feedback to assess and improve communications materials, the need to review the materials and discuss them collectively, and the desire to foster idea generation.

This study involved the following challenges:

  • In order to be able to provide informed feedback, participants needed to have read the report. However, the report is long and complex. To address this challenge, participants were provided with a summary document consisting of extracts from the report’s main areas, including the overview, introduction, and a representative set of performance indicators for each main category (there were three categories of indicators).
  • While it was important to obtain informed feedback on the report, it was also important to obtain Canadians’ views on appropriate health indicators – what is meaningful to them – without this being influenced by the report’s content. This was addressed by having participants read the report summary half way through the focus group so that the preceding discussion of related issues was not influenced by the report.
  • Although participants received a summary of the report, it was still quite lengthy. More-over, there was a lot to cover in the focus groups. To accommodate this, the focus groups were lengthened to 2 ˝ hours (including ‘reading time’).
  • Since the health care of Aboriginal people living on reserves is a federal responsibility, there was a need for feedback from Aboriginal Canadians on that aspect of the report. To address this, a sub-set of focus groups consisted entirely of Aboriginal Canadians.
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