The role of consumer representatives within the Australian healthcare system has evolved significantly during the past two decades.1 Partnering with consumers and the community is viewed as a basic element in discussions and decisions about the design, implementation and evaluation of health policies, programs and services.2, 3
Since 2010, an increase in the volume and diversity of research conducted on consumer input into decision-making has strengthened the evidence base for the benefits of partnering with consumers in health service design and governance.1
A 2015 literature review conducted by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia concluded that there is a substantial body of research supporting the involvement of consumers in health decision-making, and consumer engagement can add value to the healthcare system by improving quality of care, efficiency of resource use, and community support for programs or services.1
Specific methods of partnership range from informal, one-off events or feedback through social media, through to formal and ongoing participation on boards and committees. Consumers can be engaged as individuals, or in small or large groups.2
Evidence on the benefits and sustainability of specific partnership approaches is lacking. When selecting methods to use locally, consider the diversity of the local community, and the organisation’s design and governance needs. The use of mixed methods is common and supports the concept that not all consumers will engage with health services in the same way.2
In Australia, the concept of consumer partnership and the principles of person-centred care have gained broad support.4 However, capacity, skill and resource limitations can challenge consumer partnerships in practice. Several well-established methodologies and resources can support health services to partner with consumers for design, governance and overall improvement activities.
- Consumers Health Forum of Australia. ‘Unique and essential’: a review of the role of consumer representatives in health decision-making. Canberra: CHF; 2015.
- Dalton J, Chambers D, Harden M, Street A, Parker G, Eastwood A. Service user engagement and health service reconfiguration: a rapid evidence synthesis. J Health Serv Res Pol 2015;21(3):195–205.
- Murray Z. Community representation in hospital decision making: a literature review. Aust Health Rev 2015;39(3):323–8.
- Luxford K, Newell S. New South Wales mounts ‘patient based care’ challenge. BMJ 2015;350:g7582.