What Australia’s Health Panel said about health care communication - August 2022

In June to July 2022, Australia’s Health Panel were asked about the communication practices of the healthcare providers they had been treated by. 111 panellists responded, most of whom most were female (73%). Most respondents were aged 46 or over, just a minority (10%) were under 46 years. Panellists were asked to reflect on their most recent healthcare experience and to rate different aspects of communications using a modified version of the “Communication Assessment Tool (CAT)”. 

Panellists were highly likely to report having experienced high-quality communication from healthcare providers. This was particularly true for three items: ‘They greeted me in a way that made me feel comfortable’, ‘They treated me with respect’’ and ‘They talked in terms I could understand’’ which around 9-out-of-10 panellists rated as good, very good or excellent. In contrast, almost one third (31%) of panellists rated ‘They checked to be sure I understood everything’ and ‘They discussed next steps, including any follow-up plans’, as being fair or poor. This suggests that some consumers leave health care sessions lacking clarity on what they need to do to maintain or improve their health. 

More than half of the panellists (56%) agreed that the healthcare they had received was ‘just about perfect’, while 41% of panellists reported some dissatisfaction with their healthcare. 

Positively, the panellists reported multiple examples of ‘person centred care’ where health providers had empowered them to participate as equals in ‘shared decision making’.  This is evidence of health care providers treating consumers respectfully and as individuals, not simply as a condition to be treated. The shared decision-making suggests a collaborative approach between providers and consumers, bringing together the consumer's values and preferences with the providers’ medical expertise with a view to reaching the best healthcare decisions for the individual.  

Whilst the findings of the survey were generally very positive, unfortunately when asked if they had experienced poor communication, the majority of panellists (83%) were able to report an experience when communications that not met their expectations, for example when they felt rushed, or that their opinions had been dismissed.  

In summary, this Australia’s Health Panel survey found that consumers appear to generally experience good communication when receiving health care, with strong demonstration of both person-centred care and shared decision-making being embraced by many healthcare providers to the benefit of consumers.  However, this experience was far from universal, with nearly all consumers able to relate a negative experience.  

This was an exploratory study, but none-the-less it identified opportunities for improving communications between health care providers and consumers. In particular, further provider training around respecting consumers and enhancements to administrative systems to minimise repetitive communications were highlighted as potential areas for improvement. 

These preliminary research results will inform CHF’s advocacy on improving the healthcare system and consumers’ experiences of the health system, as well as our partnership with the ANU Institute for Communication in Healthcare.  

The results of this research will inform our advocacy and partnerships around ensuring all health professional are able to work up to the top of their scope of practice to ensure more effective and efficient use of valuable workforce resources. 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.