Background: The 'health observatory' model has successfully proliferated across several world regions, this study being conducted to define the geographical and physical bases and main functions of health observatories serving largely urbanized populations and the support needed for set-up and sustainability. Methods: A scoping study of literature and observatory websites was undertaken to identify health observatories, main functions, year established and publications, followed by a self-completion survey to further investigate these characteristics, define the help observatories would have liked at set-up and later on, and how such help might effectively be accessed. Results: Of 69 health observatories contacted, 27 (39%) mainly established since 2000 completed the survey. Most responding observatories had a sub-national/regional or sub-regional/local geographical base and no one type of physical or organizational base predominated. Nearly all observatories undertook preparation of population-based health reports and intelligence, data analysis and interpretation services, and a primary commitment to working with local/regional partners to support evidence-based decision-making. Most prioritized help with deciding and defining the scope of the observatory, estimating the core resources required for establishing/developing it, addressing sustainability issues, identifying knowledge, skills and skill-mix required to undertake the health intelligence/analytic functions, accessing data/IT expertise and developing training and capacity-building programmes. The preferred means of accessing this support was a virtual network(s) of experts on particular topics to support mutual learning and toolboxes developed for specific observatory functions. Conclusions: Although the health observatory as an organizational model is maturing, the learning derived from sharing structured guidance and support is regarded as invaluable.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health