Towards a 21st Century Vision: Consumers as makers and shapers in healthcare

Australia’s healthcare system needs to be more transparent and accessible to put consumers at the centre of health decision making, according to a new report.

A roundtable of over 35 health experts hosted by The George Institute for Global Health and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) has called for a range of changes, including the development of a National Vision for Australia’s Health 2025 to set out the principles of consumer-centred health care.

“Australians should be taking a more decisive and active role in their own healthcare and to achieve this we need to innovate in the health system, and provide consumers with the tools to make that happen. Consumers must be the makers and shapers of the health system rather than just the users and choosers,” CHF’s CEO, Leanne Wells, said.

The George Institute’s Executive Director Vlado Perkovic added “By empowering consumers to live healthy lives and take an active role in health care decisions, we will have a more responsive and cost effective health system. We need to transform the financial drivers in health care from the current rewards for treatment of illness to incentives for restoring or ensuring wellness.”

The George Institute and CHF have issued a joint report: Putting the consumer first: Creating a consumer-centred health system for a 21st Century Australia (PDF 315KB) with eight key recommendations from the roundtable. It includes calls for a range of health data and statistics to be made more widely and publically available to allow consumers to make a choice.

Ms Wells added: “Consumers should be able to identify the costs and outcomes of health practitioners’ services, such as surgeons’ performance and costs. It is now technically possible for consumers to view a range of vital statistics to inform them about cost and performance of hospitals and surgeons for given procedures, and to learn about procedures which are worthwhile and those which are not, but it happens too rarely.”

The report also recommends incentives and reimbursements for health practitioners that foster improved outcomes for patients and the community. Health care providers would be held to account for the health care outcomes of the population they serve and consumers could be funded to purchase packages of care.

Professor Perkovic said: “We believe it’s time to fundamentally change the way we view people who use our health care system. Almost thirty per cent of people don’t feel listened to by their GP, and almost a quarter are unhappy with waiting times to see specialists. But currently our health care system is designed to suit the health care providers rather than those who actually use it.”

Electronic health and harnessing digital technology will also be key in transforming Australia’s health care system with the roll-out of electronic health records to be championed by The Australian Digital Health Agency.

Ms Wells said: “The health system still lags behind when it comes to innovation, in particular in eHealth. But the growth in consumerism and the tsunami of digital apps which enable personal health monitoring are all leading one way – to greater individual influence in health choices, both in lifestyle and clinical care.”

The report has eight key recommendations:

  • To develop a National Vision for Australia’s Health 2025 through COAG that describes and commits to set the principles of consumer-centred health care underpinned by regional plans for health system improvement and innovation developed by Primary Health Networks and Local Hospital Districts/Networks in collaboration with public and private providers and the community.
  • Involve consumers in the governance of all levels of healthcare and research.
  • Invest in empowering consumers to become more involved in healthcare design and delivery, and self-management of their health.
  • Make consumer-centred professional practice a core healthcare professional competency in healthcare education top grow skills in working with patients and as part of multidisciplinary teams.
  • Ensure that consumer experience drives the health system by routinely measuring patient experiences and outcomes, and making this information publically available to allow informed decision-making.
  • Enable innovation in healthcare while ensuring new approaches are evidence- based, developed collaboratively and fit-for-purpose.
  • Adjust drivers to create the right policy, infrastructure and incentives for change and to support consumer-centred care.
  • Develop a change management strategy to facilitate the implementation of a consumer-centred health system.

Download the Putting the consumer first: Creating a consumer-centred health system for a 21st Century Australia report (PDF 315KB)