Monday, April 22, 2013

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

After more than six months working with HCCA’s Health Infrastructure Program team, conducting information sessions and engaging with the community, I recently had a chance to take a step back and reflect on some of the learnings that have been generated through this process.

One of the key concerns of many community groups that we’ve spoken to has been communication.  Most people have never even heard of the Health Infrastructure Program, much less know what the Program involves, and what kind of improvements, changes and restructuring that they will experience as part of it.  By delivering information sessions, we are slowly helping to inform the ACT community, but this kind of approach needs to be supported by a range of other communication techniques.

When compared to other health services the ACT Health Directorate is lagging behind in terms of communicating with Canberra’s citizens.  The Health Directorate’s website is out of date with some sections of the site still boasting about the display of sketch plans…in 2011! And the website still refers to “Your health – our priority”, a slogan that is no longer in use.  As it is, the Health Directorate website is not an effective tool for informing the public about this massive program of public works, and often a fundamental restructuring of how care is delivered. We are very keen to work with the Directorate to improve the level of information to the Canberra community.

There are lots of excellent examples of effective websites that the Health Directorate could emulate.  The Box Hill Hospital, the Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Royal North Shore Hospital websites all contain a variety of media about their (re)developments and health initiatives.  

Kerry Snell and I attended a Health Facilities Design and Development conference earlier this year and saw an interesting presentation about the New Bendigo Hospital.  For this project, the website is the main communication tool and offers members of the public project outlines, Models of Care and sketch plans.  This website receives 4200 hits per week.  However, there is a recognition that electronic communication alone is not enough, and accordingly four information sessions are held each year, with attendance figures ranging from 40-200 people. 

Communication isn’t just about the big picture stuff, either.  During redevelopment, restructure and relocation, it is so important to have effective communication and appropriate signage to facilitate consumer and staff movement around facilities.  At the Canberra Hospital, there is a great deal of development currently being undertaken.  However, services are still going on, so interim measures are taken.  Issues occur when people attempting to access these facilities are unfamiliar with new arrangements, or when signage is poor.  A key example of this is the Adult Mental Health Unit – despite the unit having been open for over a year, there are still signs which point to its former location. We've also heard reports from women accessing the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children that the entrance is difficult to locate.  The signage inside the Centenary Hospital is also inadequate - on a recent visit to the facility, I noticed at least 6 women walking around looking confused.  Luckily, there happened to be helpful staff members around who offered directions.

A sign pointing to the old mental health facility at the Canberra Hospital.

It’s time for the ACT Health Directorate to put a strong, flexible and effective communication strategy in place so that the Canberra community can be adequately informed about the program of works for which their tax dollars are paying.  Having such a strategy will also enable better access to services for consumers, who will be informed when parking or location arrangements change.  It will also reduce opportunities for distress when interim arrangements are employed – an informed consumer is (generally) a more understanding consumer.

Communication is key – capisce?

Heather McGowan
Health Infrastructure Program

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