Improving consumer participation

Consumer participation in healthcare is now internationally recognised as a key factor in the provision of safe, quality healthcare in all settings.

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Why improve participation?

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights states that consumers have a right to be included in decisions and choices about care. The World Health Organization cites participation as a key element in its International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health.

Consumer participation is about much more than an individual’s participation in decisions about their own care and treatment. While that is important, it is also essential that consumers are involved as partners in health policy development and health service design and improvement. 

Standards & policies

The Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare has developed the National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standards to provide Australian healthcare services with some clear direction about partnering with consumers. Standard 2 of the NSQHS Standards requires the involvement of consumers in the organisational and strategic processes that guide the planning, design and evaluation of health services.

There is also the Victorian government’s ‘Doing it with us not for us’ participation policy. This policy provides strategic direction for consumers, carers and community members. It supports them to work with their health services and the Department of Health and Human Services in improving health policy and planning, care and treatment, and the wellbeing of all Victorians.

Where does participation happen?

Consumer participation in healthcare happens at a number of levels:

  • Individual – involvement in individual treatment and care (e.g. person and family centred care; self-management)
  • Program – involvement in co-design, implementation and evaluation of programs (e.g. consumers, carers or community members in working groups or committees)
  • Organisation – involvement in higher level decision making and governance (e.g. consumer advisory groups; consumer, carer and community members representatives at executive levels)

What health services need to do

Health services seeking to promote and nurture consumer participation at all of these levels need:

  1. A policy stating the organisation’s commitment to consumer participation
  2. A framework to embed participation throughout the organisation
  3. Policies and procedures to guide all participation activities
  4. A participation plan to monitor and evaluate all participation activities
  5. Resources allocated to support consumer participation

Consumer participation does not just happen at the bedside or at a meeting table. There are many innovative ways to involve consumers in the work of a health service:

  • Narratives
  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Rapid improvement events
  • Outreach activities
  • Co-design
  • Evaluation processes
  • Staff training
  • Staff recruitment
  • Formal committees
  • Reporting 

For more information

Contact Health Issues Centre.

Related resources

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Consumer Connect

A network of consumers willing to use their experience, knowledge and ideas to help improve health care in Victoria.

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