Health care systems are complex. As a result, it is often unclear what the effects of changes in policy or service provision might be, whether on system performance or on the well-being of those needing care. There may be many objectives to be met and many interest groups to be considered. If public money is being spent, there should be public benefits, and these are hard to measure. All these factors mean that health care managers and planners have to make difficult decisions. At the same time, resources for health care tend to be in short supply, even though the benefits that they can provide are fundamental, so health care managers have a particular responsibility for making decisions well. This means making decisions that draw on sound information and judgement, and can be explained and justified.
There are methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis that can help decision makers to structure and clarify difficult problems, and to explore the implications of pursuing different options. These methods can draw on 'hard' and 'soft' information, and can be participative, explainable and justifiable. Models are diagrammatic and symbolic representations of problems. Some of these models are developed using more or less formal group processes. Many of them can be 'run' on personal computers to explore different scenarios.
The underlying concepts and ideas in this book are drawn primarily from the field of operational research (OR) which is the use of scientific methods to support management decision making and problem-solving. OR approaches have been developed and applied in a wide variety of contexts in the private and the public sectors. This is a very large and often technical field. The aim of this book is to provide you with a broad evaluative survey of the concepts and some hands-on experience with models, rather than expertise in specific techniques. By the end, you should be able to recognize the value of using analytical models to support decision making, understand and describe the strengths and weaknesses of some of the different types of model and approaches to analysing decisions, and choose analytical approaches appropriate to a particular situation.
This book will help you to think in an analytical way about some of the decision problems that you have to resolve; to carry out simple analyses of your own, but to recognize situations in which calling in experts may prove informative and how to make the best use of them; and to evaluate proposals and project reports by professional analysts, and articles in management or scientific journals. It will provide you with the basis for developing more specific interests and skills in the field, should you wish to do so.