Consumer participation: we’re doing it to improve the way we deliver services

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of the NADA Advocate. For more information about the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) visit their website at


The suggested title of this edition highlights what is self-evident in good health care but may be so obvious, it can sometimes get overlooked.

The Consumers Health Forum believes that consumer-centred health care is, well, central to the delivery of the best and most appropriate health care.  Health care works best when the person receiving it is taking an active role -participating - in the process, whether it be by getting a good understanding of their condition, maximising the benefits of treatment or by ensuring they are doing what’s best for their health.

We believe the principles of consumer-centred health care apply as much to participants in alcohol and other drugs services as to consumers in other parts of the health system.

Consider the six principles of consumer-centred care that CHF advocates.

They are:

Accessible and affordable care – also means it should be timely, well-organised and sustainable

Whole of person care  - seeing to emotional, physical, social and support needs

Coordinated and comprehensive care – joined up, integrated and available

Appropriate care – meets individual needs, safe, competent and seeks consumer understanding

Trust and respect – doctor, nurse and health worker understand needs, are transparent and accountable

Informed decision making – consumers are told treatment options, costs and their consent is sought.

Is it not reasonable to ensure that all of these principles also apply to those participants in treatment for alcohol and other drugs dependency?

A virtue of the consumer-centred approach in administering services is its inherent simplicity.  While for some providers, not least in the drug and alcohol services, a consumer-centred approach may seem revolutionary, placing the consumer at the centre of your care is hardly difficult to understand.

It has been said that the AoD sector is where “you do things to the consumer, rather than with”.  Added complications can be whether a consumer is “well enough” to contribute, or the stigma and discrimination about illicit drug use which pervades many parts of our community (even health professionals).

CHF supports NADA’s ambition to break down barriers to consumer-centred care and build the capacity of agencies to increase their consumer participation practices.

And there is well-based evidence to support this drive.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare in its report on the subject of patient-centred care three years ago, stated that research demonstrated that such care “improves patient care experience and creates public value for services.”

“When health professionals, managers, patients, families and carers work in partnership, the quality and safety of health care rises, costs decrease, provider satisfaction increases and patient care experience improves.”

The Commission report says that Australian healthcare organisations were becoming increasingly interested in patient-centred care.   Organisations can readily put patient charters and informed consent policies in place, it says, “but many find it hard to actively change the way care is delivered, and may struggle to involve patients, families, carers, and consumers and to learn from their experiences”.

Traditionalists in the AoD sector may argue that consumer-centredness in their sector is ‘for the birds’. 

But consider the key strategies the commission on safety and quality suggested for building patient-centered care:

  • Regular monitoring and reporting patient feedback data
  • Engaging patients and families as partners
  • Demonstrating committed senior leadership
  • Building staff capacity and a supportive work environment
  • Establishing performance accountability
  • Supporting a learning culture

So to improve services through a consumer-centred approach, service delivery can move from being ‘right’ (correct and following a guideline) to the ‘right thing’ for the person that meets their needs and preferences.

Are any of those strategies insurmountable in AoD?

As with most significant change for the better, the challenge is not so much in the complexity of the change itself, but in accepting the benefits of that change and working with patience and leadership towards the goal.  

That’s the hard part, but it is achievable … and it’s in the best interests of our consumers, the AOD sector and our health system.


About the author

Adam Stankevicius

Adam Stankevicius was Chief Executive Officer of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia.