What Australia’s Health Panel said about students in health care- Dec 2021/Jan 2022

Today’s healthcare students are tomorrow’s healthcare practitioners and students need hands-on experience with consumers to become competent healthcare professionals. As such consumers can play a key role in the education and training of healthcare students. However, little is known about how consumers themselves feel about their role in student education nor how student practitioners affect the consumer’s healthcare experience.

For the December 2021/January 2022 survey of Australia’s Health Panel, as students across the country graduated their studies, we asked the Panel about their experiences with and opinions on students delivering healthcare in Australia.

We found that Australian consumers are generally supportive of having students involved in their healthcare journey and generally have good or neutral experiences of student involvement in the past. Having students involved in the delivery of healthcare generally improves or does not affect consumers perceptions of the quality of that facility, with Hospitals and GP clinicians the facilities consumers are most likely to encounter students currently.

Typically, student involvement is not perceived by consumers to improve the nature or quality of the treatment they receive, but it can lead to improved perception of the quality of the consultation generally, through greater discussion between student, supervisor and patient leading to the patient feeling they had a better understanding of their situation.

In terms of the type of student involvement, most consumers are happy for students to observe the delivery of care via their usual practitioner. Although a sizeable minority are also happy for the student to take a more active or even leading role.

Generally, the willingness of involvement depended on the nature of the healthcare being sought- with things that were less ‘serious’ leading consumers to be more willing for student involvement. Unexpectedly consumers appeared to distinguish between serious healthcare and urgent healthcare which warrants further research in this area.

Concerningly, it appears that consumers are not consistently being given adequate communication around students being involved in their healthcare including not being given forewarning, not having the purposes explained, not being asked for feedback and, most concerningly, not being asked if they consented. This needs correcting.

Finally, consumers overwhelmingly believed it was important for consumers to be involved in the general education and training of students. However, they are split as to whether they personally would be willing to do so, which suggests further research is needed into the barriers of potential consumer involvement.

The results of this research will be used to inform our advocacy and partnerships with health education leaders such as Universities Australia to ensure consumer needs are adequately addressed. The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for giving up their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.