Consumer involvement in their own healthcare – key to a sustainable national health system

The Secretary of the Federal Department of Health, Martin Bowles has recognised the importance of consumer involvement in health and aged care will significantly deliver a better and more sustainable Australian health system.

Page last updated: 21 March 2017

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21 March 2017

Recognising the importance of consumer involvement in health and aged care will significantly deliver a better and more sustainable Australian health system, the Secretary of the Federal Department of Health, Martin Bowles, said today.

Addressing the Consumer Health Colloquium in Canberra, Mr Bowles said while it is heartening that Australians are living much longer increasing numbers of people are now coping with chronic and complex diseases.

“In tackling these new challenges we must listen to and value the views of consumers but also understand not all consumers are the same. Some have detailed knowledge of their illness and the health system and some will need help during their treatment.

“Fortunately Australians are increasingly more health literate and know more, see more, want more.

“Australians are expecting their health care not just to be about price, but also about quality and safety, including medical errors and adverse events. In aged care, it’s about independence, choice, control.

“Putting the needs of consumers at the centre of our service delivery will not only make life easier for patients, but should produce efficiency and financial advantages for the health system.”

Mr Bowles said Medicare is billed more than a million times a day, costing more than $20 billion a year.

“In the next two decades, two trillion dollars will be spent on health - clearly, this is not sustainable. That’s why reform is so important and consumer involvement must be part of it. We must see real change under way to wrap the system around the consumer.”

Mr Bowles said in line with the shift in focus from practitioner and provider, to patient and consumer, in the past year the government has established 31 Primary Health Networks throughout Australia to work with communities to tailor services to local communities’ actual needs.

“Rather than presuming people’s needs, they’re actually asking what those needs are. Understanding the burden of disease in the PHN region, how it interacts with services that are, or aren’t, being provided. Then they have the mandate to commission services to meet those needs, to fill the gaps.”

Another major reform is the Health Care Homes initiative.

“This is a new coordinated approach that puts the patient at the centre, while supporting sustainability through better coordination of services, less duplication and fewer hospital admissions,” Mr Bowles said.

“The Health Care Home model is a more flexible and innovative model of care for patients living with chronic and complex conditions where services are tailored around the needs and goals of the patient. Payment methods are then redesigned to support the new care model.

“This is a huge shift but all centred around the individual needs of consumers, who will have greater say in their health and aged care.”

Mr Bowles said there were several streams of reform under way within the health system including hospitals, GPs, Medicare, primary health, PBS, aged care, mental health, workforce and digital health.

“Consumer involvement is fundamental to all of these reviews. There are numerous instances of highly effective consumer consultation which has led to policy development that is innovative, of high quality and responsive to consumer needs.

“In aged care reform, there has been genuine collaboration between providers and consumers, at the policy table – sharing expertise, sharing learnings, sharing objectives – conscious of its pressures, but also conscious of the pressures on government and the bureaucracy.”

Mr Bowles said the Federal Department of Health, which he leads, is working very hard to engage better with others in the health space – consumers, peaks groups and stakeholders.

“We are so much better now at listening, learning and sharing knowledge. We are striving to make it easier for people to feel ownership of system and that they have a choice and a voice in a health and aged care system to be proud of.”

The Consumer Health Colloquium was organised by the peak Australian consumer advocacy group, Consumer Health Forum, Mental Health Australia and the National Rural Health Alliance.

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Media contact: Kay McNiece, 0412 132 585

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