Health advocate stands up for consumers

Cropped shot of two attractive young female medical workers talking while standing in the hospital corridor

Consumers Health Forum (CHF) of Australia CEO Leanne Wells has spent the bulk of her career working within the health sector.

“I have worked across preventative health, primary care and mental health policy and these are areas of strong interest for me,” she tells the ANMJ.

“I am a passionate advocate for health and good healthcare because it is so fundamentally important to how well we live our lives but also to our country’s productivity.”

Ms Wells has been at the helm of CHF since 2015, Australia’s leading advocate on consumer healthcare issues.

She says the organisation’s aim is to drive a world class health and social care system shaped by and centred on consumers and communities.

“It is more vital than ever for health consumers to have a strong national voice, given the range and complexity of health issues which demand a consumer perspective, whether it be access to medical care, medications or design and direction of healthcare services.

“It is also vital because the evidence is building that the more consumers are involved in shaping healthcare, and as partners in their own care, the better the health outcomes.”

In recent years, CHF has played a significant role in guiding health policy affecting consumers.

Ms Wells outlines successes including improvements in primary healthcare shaped by CHF’s input into a major government review, the role it has played in the health insurance review, and CHF’s leadership in highlighting troubling out of pocket health costs via its national survey and advocacy.

Other initiatives include current national trial Collaborative Pairs, a project uniting consumers and health professionals in a bid to develop and strengthen their capacity to work together to transform the health system.

Ms Wells says consumer-centred healthcare is essential to consumers being better informed and engaged in their own care and that CHF works with organisations such as the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and NPS MedicineWise to boost patient health literacy.

“Research in Australia and overseas shows that well-informed patients who can engage with their healthcare provider on their treatment are more likely to have better health outcomes.”

A survey commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) earlier this year found Australians consider reliable, low cost health services their top personal issue, and high quality and accessible public hospitals the most important national issue.

Ms Wells says CHF’s own priorities echo the findings, with access to quality healthcare for all Australians through optimal primary care and pubic hospital services paramount.

But Ms Wells suggests preventative health measures are equally important in stimulating healthier lives through good diet, sufficient physical activity and social/economic supports.

“With so much ill-health involving preventable chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, CHF argues for a much more effective preventative health policy in the way of public education, better regulation and targeted taxation, that at modest cost could prevent much illness and save the taxpayer billions.”

Ms Wells labels the introduction and evolution of My Health Record, an online summary of key health information making it easier for patients to share their health data with numerous medical practitioners, a “game-changer” that will empower consumers.

“CHF believes an effective and secure My Health Record is a game-changer for Australian healthcare through more accurate, better connected healthcare,” Wells says.

“It is a development that can have huge benefits, particularly for those with chronic and complex conditions but also for everyday healthcare, bringing the benefits of 21st century technology to both patients and clinicians, reducing duplication of diagnostic tests and mistakes in treatment and medication, and better connecting patients with their different clinicians.’

Asked to name the greatest challenges facing healthcare, Ms Wells points to fragmented health funding, insufficient preventative health policy, and the need to ensure all Australians have access.

“The big barriers in Australia include divided health funding between federal and state/territory governments,” she explains.

“This has posed tremendous obstacles in developing an integrated health system so that one part, say public hospitals largely funded and controlled by the states, can coordinate policies and care with primary healthcare services largely funded through Medicare by the federal government.

“Also, the lack of an overarching preventative health policy means Australia is not doing as much as it could in preventing avoidable chronic disease. Australia’s public/private system, as well, is generating difficulties in ensuring equity of access and CHF has called for a Productivity Commission Inquiry into government assistance to private health insurance.”

Looking ahead to the future, CHF’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan will continue to draw on consumer knowledge to drive innovation and improvements across Australia’s health system.

Key objectives surround shaping national policy and system design to achieve a consumer centred health system, meaningful consumer engagement across all levels of the health system, and maximising the impact of the consumer voice at a national level.

“CHF’s aim is a consumer-centred health system that is accepted throughout Australia’s health world as a routine part of high quality care by all,” Ms Wells says.

“We will push for opportunities to make that a deeper reality, influencing stakeholders and equipping consumer representatives to make a difference.”

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