The use of data and indicators in the mental healthcare system

Data and Evidence Mental Health Services Public Policy

Development: March to December 2021

Partners: Impulso.Gov and Rede de Atenção Psicossocial (RAPS) de Aracaju (SE)


The pilot project, which started in March 2021, consists in the creation of a practical tool to equip municipal healthcare offices to better use data and indicators in the mental healthcare system, or the “Rede de Atenção Psicossocial – RAPS” (Psychosocial Care Network). This pioneering project in Brazil, developed in partnership with Impulso.Gov and the city of Aracaju (SE), aims at defining key performance indicators to evaluate and track the public mental health services in order to, subsequently, improve the psychosocial care services of the SUS (Brazil’s Unified Public Health System, equivalent to the NHS).

The use of data and indicators in the country’s public healthcare system helps to support decision-making processes, prioritize interventions, formulate mental health care goals and strategies and optimize healthcare spending. It can, for example, help identify and prioritize the main needs in terms of mental health disorders in a given region, thus, allowing to expand the system’s capacity to speed up service and reduce queues.

This initiative is a joint effort between two civil society organizations and the public sector to support evidence-based decision-making processes, whose benefits impact the whole society. This pilot solution can also be scaled to other municipalities in Brazil. Building a culture of using data and indicators in the public sector is an important step to improve the delivery of mental health care and to formulate and track goals related to mental health.

What are data and indicators?

Data is a piece of information that may have one or more meanings that, separably, may not convey a complete message. For example, the gender of a healthcare system user, by itself, is an information that, if not used in combination with others such as age, income, medical history, territory, among others, may not provide a complete and actionable message to the user of that information.

In order for this information to actually improve the quality of the services offered, we then work with indicators, which are specific combinations of data that help in the identification of potential red flags, as well as in the understanding of the local context, its specific dynamics and needs. Therefore, indicators work as reality signals, guiding decision-making and helping to outline the best actions to achieve goals.


Preliminary outcomes and lessons learned

  • Local engagement: as local mental healthcare coordinators have realized the importance of data and indicators in their day-to-day work, they have committed to making improvements on data collection processes, engaging other healthcare professionals in this agenda.
  • Data and indicators in the RAPS’ day-to-day: the use of indicators has supported decision-making and has been incorporated into the Coordination’s day-to-day work, such as the weekly meetings of the Management Board (coordination of all the services of the RAPS), which are now more strategic as they can track the services’ progress and quality more accurately with the tool.
  • Generating meaningful information: the key performance indicators that have been developed, such as the rate of abandonment of services, have supported a better understanding of the services’ quality and prompted discussions about ways to improve them.
  • Improvement of the available local resources and equipment: because a key challenge to effectively work with data and indicators is the lack of digital resources to electronically file and record all information, a request for new computers was made to the Municipal Health Department of Aracaju, which was approved early in the project.
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