Ombudsmen in health care: case study of a municipal health ombudsman

Rita de Cássia Costa da Silva Marcelo Caldeira Pedroso Paola Zucchi About the authors

OBJECTIVE

: To analyze the role of a Municipal Health Ombudsman and its contribution to the public health management from the perspective of the public health system users and the municipal health counselors.

METHODS

: Qualitative research approach using the case study, descriptive and transversal methods. The unit of analysis was a Municipal Health Ombudsman, in the state of Minas Gerais, Southeastern Brazil, between May and August 2010. The study was observational in nature and data were collected through interviews with two groups of stakeholders: users and municipal health counselors. We interviewed 44 Brazilian Unified Health System users who had made direct use of the Municipal Health Ombudsman and all 20 municipal health counselors. The data obtained were analyzed based on three issues: (1) nature of the data obtained; (2) discussion of subsidies to qualify the ombudsman’s functioning as a management tool; (3) proposals for actions to improve democratic management in the area of public health.

RESULTS

: The complaints to the ombudsman denoted difficulties in access to health care services running the risk of their being perceived as shortcuts to gaining accessibility, disregarding the principle of social justice. The role of the ombudsman has the citizens’ approval. Users reported the following main functions of the ombudsman: to support the resolution of health problems, to listen and to clarify issues regarding Brazilian Unified Health System operations and procedures. Information was emphasized by health counselors as an instrument of power and access to the rights of Brazilian Unified Health System users. They highlighted that the ombudsman has the role of ensuring justice to foster an effective health policy, besides playing an important mediating role between the board of the municipal health system, its managers and citizens. Furthermore, the ombudsman was shown to have an execution role that transcends its regular functions.

CONCLUSIONS

: The study found that the ombudsman is a key management tool in monitoring the health care system. Therefore, the establishment of the ombudsman is an advance in the field of democratic management. Nevertheless, there are challenges to be overcome in order to improve ombudsman contribution to the execution of health policies and representing citizens in ensuring their rights to health care.

Patient Advocacy; Consumer Participation; Patient Rights; Public Health; Unified Health System; Qualitative Research; Case Studies


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