A number of features of good practice were identified in the 2003 report Consumer and Provider Partnerships: What Makes Them Work. This report was written by Kate Moore. We consider these features to be and sustain meaningful and effective consumer participation.
1 Investing time
Investing time is an important facet of any participation. Consumer, carer and provider relationships are no exception. All parties need time to understand each other's perspectives and to set up management structures and processes that enhance rather than impede the process of working together.
2 Flexibility and listening
Flexibility and recognition of the sovereignty of consumer and carer needs is required, particularly when designing services or tools for consumers, carers and community members. There needs to be organisational willingness and support for the consumer and carer voice to be heard.
3 Power and empowerment
Relationships between consumers, carers and providers have traditionally been characterised by an imbalance of power. However, as ACT Health develops partnerships with consumers, carers and community members the nature of these relationships inevitably changes. Good partnerships should be empowering for all parties. ACT Health working together with consumers, carers and community members can be more effective than when all parties work on their own, so that the whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
4 Responding to feedback
ACT Health must ensure that feedback is not a one-way process, by sharing and responding to feedback received.
5 Supporting consumers, carers and community members
Participation is often not easy for consumers, carers and community members. They can face a variety of barriers and sometimes need support for them to be actively involved. Because their participation can bring about change, it is often misunderstood or resisted by providers. It can even bring about a hostile response. Support systems should be put in place and a review undertaken of existing practices that might be a barrier to consumer and carer participation.
6 Engendering realistic expectations
Participants must be aware that any process to improve services will inevitably be the subject of high expectations by many providers, consumers, carers and community members. While it is unrealistic to expect that dramatic changes will happen overnight, ACT Health is making a fundamental commitment to build a responsive and inclusive health care system as a long term goal.
7 Valuing the work and expertise of consumers, carers and community members
Many consumers, carers and community members participate in different aspects of service planning and delivery but are often expected to do what can be a large amount of work purely as a voluntary activity. ACT Health should ensure that all contributions are given appropriate recognition and appreciation. In some circumstances payment for participation may be appropriate, in line with ACT Health's Consumer and Carer Reimbursement Policy.
8 Health care relationships
With the formation of consumer, carer and provider partnerships, people who had previously encountered each other only in a patient/health care provider relationship may suddenly find themselves in an awkward situation with the potential to affect the relationship. ACT Health, consumers, carers and community members should maintain an awareness of the difficulties that may be encountered as a result of the change in relationship.
For consumers, carers and community members participating in planning, delivery or even evaluation of the same service they attend for health care raises issues about their future use of the service. If they provide feedback or perspectives that are in any way critical they may fear that it will have an adverse impact on their relationship with the provider. Providers who have been working hard to deliver what they believe is a good service may be offended by critical feedback. Some providers may also react negatively to the way in which the feedback is provided. Care needs to be taken to manage potential issues arising as a result.
Moore, Kate. Consumer and Provider Partnerships: What makes them work, The Consumer and Provider Partnerships in Health Project. An initiative of the Consumer Focus Collaboration and funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing. February 2003, p. 12.
A Consumer Representative should not be expected to:
- Have a technical background in the subject under discussion. The consumer representative provides consumers perspectives on an issue and does not need the technical knowledge. Their expertise is in knowledge of consumer issues.
- Undertake consumer consultations beyond what is required to inform their own input at the meeting or to ensure their own accountability to their constituency. If wider consumer consultation is required, the consumer representative can advise the committee on how this can be progressed and advise Health Care Consumers' Association of any such requests.
The HCCA Consumer Representatives Program is a focal point for both consumer groups and government for the nomination, training and support of consumer representatives. It provides skilled representatives to more than 50 committees across the ACT health system.
HCCA provides training, policy support and resource materials for consumer representatives, establishes channels for representatives to feedback to the community and identifies potential nominees for committees and advisory boards.
What is a consumer representative?
A consumer representative is someone who is endorsed by the Health Care Consumers' Association of the ACT (HCCA) to represent the views and interests of health consumers.
HCCA consumer representatives have experience of health services primarily as consumers of services. They commit to being well informed about relevant health issues and representing a broad range of consumer views by ensuring they are accountable to others through HCCA and/or other community groups.
Why a consumer representative?
Representatives are people who use health care have particular knowledge not otherwise available to policy makers. They ensure health service users have input into policies and direction and remind committee members that the public interest is of primary concern.
The following information provides a guide for those working in the ACT health system requesting a consumer representative.
What is the process of finding a consumer rep?
When contacting HCCA about a consumer rep it helps us if you can provide the following information at least one month prior to the first meeting:
- Terms of reference for the Committee
- How often, when and where it meets
- How it links with other committees and decision-making bodies
- Whether the committee pays sitting fees or out -of -pocket expenses to the consumer representative
- Committee contact details including email and telephone and mailing address
- Any other information including websites that provide background information about the committee or issue.
It takes about four weeks for HCCA to complete the process of advertising, recruiting and selecting a consumer representative. We advertise vacancies to consumer networks via email and our newsletter. People nominate for positions and these nominations are sent to the Consumer Representatives Sub-Committee to assess nominations and make a recommendation to the Executive Committee of HCCA.
For more information contact our office and ask to speak with Kerry Snell, the Coordinator of our Consumer Representatives Program.