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Patient-centred healthcare that fully involves the patient, their families and carers, leads to better outcomes for all. While the quality of healthcare is paramount, a group of Victorians are working hard to make sure that consumers have their say about how to improve the patient experience.

Evidence shows that by partnering with those who access the healthcare system, health providers are not only able to improve access and quality of care, but they can help improve the patient experience as well.

Committed to identifying, scaling and embedding innovative practice across the Victorian health system, Better Care Victoria (BCV) recognises that patients, families, carers, and clinicians are best placed to provide constructive advice and feedback on how improvements can be made.

Through their Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC), BCV is working to enable and sustain innovative improvements to the health system, that will have wide-reaching benefits for all Victorians.

Committed to innovative improvements

Comprised of consumers, carers, and consumer representatives, the CAC provides valuable advice to the BCV Board in relation to project investment in innovation and improvement.

Most recently, the CAC provided key advice and input into the shortlisting of the expression of interest for BCV’s 2017-18 Innovation Funded projects, that will result in up to $4 million invested in the sector. The CAC also provides recommendations on how best to engage consumers more broadly in health service innovation work.

CAC member and Chair Kellie O’Callaghan says it’s essential for those using the healthcare system to participate with health services, departments, and peak bodies, to inform improvements in health policy, planning, care and treatment.

“Consumers make an important contribution, not only in highlighting issues in health service provision, but also as a valuable resource in the planning and innovation that takes place in all areas of health services,” she says.

The desire to make a difference

O’Callaghan says her decision to play a key role on the CAC came from her experience as a long-standing consumer of regional and metropolitan health services. Living with a chronic and relatively rare medical condition, along with her experience of breast cancer, means she will have an ongoing connection to health services.

“I wanted to ensure that a clear and concise consumer perspective was available to inform enhancements of health services and systems,” she says. “As a consumer with extensive governance and health service management experience, my experience is informed by good practice and personal experience.”

The future of patient care

Needing to access the health system on an ongoing basis is something that inspired fellow committee members, Susan Brunton and Carol Webb, to lend their voices to ensure a better patient experience for all.

Both women have children with health challenges who will need to use the system for a long time. Their strong desire to make a difference to the future of patient care for their children is what drives them.

“My son has had to, and will continue to rely on the healthy system quite heavily,” says Webb, “so when I realised I had an opportunity to make a difference, I jumped at the chance. I want to shape the future for my son, and for others.”

Brunton agrees: “One, if not both of my children will continue to be users of the health system for a long time to come and so I am keen to ensure they are the beneficiaries of an improved system.”

Consumer input is vital

Patient-centred care focuses on the planning, delivery, and evaluation of healthcare, in partnership with patients and consumers. Understanding the patient experience—both good and bad—will establish a greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes innovation can be simplifying processes, rather than making them more complex.

O’Callaghan says: “There are very real opportunities to streamline the patient journey, improve communication between consumers and services, and to ensure that services have a clearly articulated pathway and genuine commitment to consumer participation and feedback.”

However, she warns that innovation can only be well-informed when all stakeholder perspectives are considered.

“Decisions made in isolation of consumers run the risk of not being relevant.”

Understanding consumer challenges

While there are obviously elements of the health system that work well, all three women agree that the patient and carer’s experience is often overlooked.

“Without the patient, there is no health system and yet there is the growing feeling that healthcare has become about everyone other than the patient,” explains Brunton.

She says that while provision of quality care is extremely important, so too is understanding that the current health system can be difficult to navigate. She says there is definitely room for improvement in making processes simpler for consumers, and delivering healthcare with more empathy.

Webb agrees, saying she found the lack of connection between health services very hard to deal with.

“When you access multiple health services, it can be very hard to keep tabs on everything. Often patients and their carers are left to connect the dots themselves. For the elderly, or people who don’t have English as their first language, this can present huge difficulties,” says Webb.

Improving engagement

Webb says that respecting everyone’s experience of the health system is an important part of consumer engagement, and that connecting with consumers from different perspectives (e.g. age, ethnicity, location, and health challenges, etc.) is the best way to achieve better engagement.

O’Callaghan is confident that BCV is creating a space for consumers to genuinely engage in the development of innovation opportunities within health services.

“We’re breaking down the barriers of assumption that health information is too complex to involve consumer directive approaches. Our CAC have clearly demonstrated the capacity and willingness to have challenging conversations, to actively engage in problem solving, whilst being informed by a framework of aspirational thinking,” she says.

“Consumers should be embedded in all health planning to determine the way forward to improvement.”