Friday, July 22, 2011

Consumers Reforming Health

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural Consumers Reforming Health Conference hosted by the Health Issues Centre in Melbourne.

It was my first experience of such an event on such a scale - there were over 400 participants from a variety of health related fields, including consumers, health professionals and academics.

The sessions were jam-packed with information on a range of topics such as consumer engagement in mental health, the history and future of the consumer movement in Australia and the myriad benefits of patient-centred care for consumers, family/friends/carers and health service staff.

While the accomplished speakers presented a cross-section of current developments in the area of consumer engagement in health, it was easy to see the key themes underpinning each presentation.

One of the key themes I picked out and one which was expanded upon across the course of the conference concerns the future of consumer engagement in this country. The Australian consumer movement is strong, coherently structured and operates in the mainstream with regard to policy development. However, as Hans Lofgren of Deakin University argued, the increasing official recognition of the importance of consumer engagement may belie the realities of the movement's impact on policy-making. It really highlighted for me the fact that as consumers we must be continually pushing for recognition and engagement - we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, despite our achievements.

The importance of patient-centred care was also strongly asserted by speakers, demonstrating the benefits for patients and their loved ones, but also for staff. Susan Frampton, President of Planetree in the USA, presented patient-centred care in the form of a "business case", outlining the countless emotional, social, health and economic advantages to employing a patient-centred care model.

Overall, the conference emphasised the importance of viewing consumers as equal partners with clinicians in the provision of health care services. The "equal partner" rhetoric was utilised by Beth Wilson, the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, in her opening address and was echoed throughout the conference. Much was made of the unique knowledge and insight consumers can possess about their own health condition, and how they must be valued as an integral part of the care team.

The conference closed with remarks from a panel which comprised Tony McBride (the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance), Dr Jocelyn Cornwell (King's Fund UK), Andrew Hayne (COAG Reform Council), Stephen Murby (CHF), Phillip Bain (Northern Division of General Practice) and HCCA's own Russell McGowan. The panel reflected on the future of consumer involvement in health care policy and touched on the role of the internet and other information technology in further democratising the system and empowering consumers.

The Consumers Reforming Health Conference really enthused me and made me positive for the future. It was so encouraging to see so many consumers and health professionals enthusiastic about promoting consumer engagement within our health system.

Heather McGowan
Consumer Representatives Program

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