Consumer summit to Shift Gears on health care

Consumers as leaders in healthcare will be the central theme of the inaugural Australasian Shifting Gears conference hosted by the Consumers Health Forum in September 2020.

The health system is “shifting gears” with consumers demanding and acquiring a greater say in health – their own and society’s.  

The Shifting Gears summit on Australian and New Zealand Consumer Experience and Leadership in Healthcare will bring consumer and health leaders from around the world to the Sydney International Convention Centre on 2 - 3 September, 2020. To ensure a representative attendance, CHF will provide 125 free registrations for active health consumers to attend.

We are “shifting gears’ in health care as consumers assume greater responsibility and influence over their own care and the design of health services. Advances in health care are driving the demand for more effective recognition of patient and consumer-driven health policies for individually-focused services in Australia.

Consumers as leaders in health care? The concept challenges some in the community including some health practitioners, yet the dynamics of consumer choice, expanding healthcare knowledge in areas like genomics and the potential of digital technology are empowering people to engage with and make decisions about their health care to a greater extent than ever.

“The patient will see you now,” reflects at least the trend if not the reality of the changing balance in the health care relationship. The technical and social barriers that blocked consumers from learning and deciding more about their health care are falling away.

And this comes as our community views accessible and quality health care as a matter of course. New Zealanders and Australians typically rate health care as their leading public policy concern. And health care developments such as those in NZ in which primary health practices have led the way, have enhanced access to personalised health care.  

Research Australia’s latest survey, Australia Speaks 2019, demonstrates emphatically the importance we place on health. Since the survey first began 16 years ago, “improving hospitals and the healthcare system” has rated as the number one priority for taxpayer support.  And the goal of increasing funding and programs for preventative health care takes fourth place up, two places from last year.  

A majority of Australians would welcome more information and practice advice as to how they can maintain their own physical and mental health. We are in for the long haul when it comes to our health with more than three quarters stating that being healthy in retirement and/or in 10 years’ time is a very important motivation.

The summit title is named after our white paper, Shifting Gears – Consumers Transforming Health,  which set future directions. It was developed with input from 20 well-placed advisers and marks over three decades of advocacy by CHF on behalf of consumers and national patient organisations.

Shifting Gears sets out the transformational changes needed to deliver a person-centred health care system and a program for training and developing health consumer leaders in a range of roles which would foster more dynamic and responsive health care.

In that spirit, next September’s Summit will offer both organisations and consumers who want to be at the forefront of system change the opportunity to come together to explore, discuss and develop the concept and practice of consumer-centred care.

The CHF Shifting Gears Summit 2020 will: 

  • support the development of consumer leadership skills 
  • explore the major policy shifts required to achieve person-centred care systems and services
  • showcase exemplary practice in consumer leadership
  • bring together consumer leaders with clinical leaders, service providers, researchers and key decision-makers
  • bring clinicians and researchers to the forefront of system change.

Recent surveys commissioned by CHF and its partners have underscored the changes underway. Our study, Patient Activation in Australians with Chronic Illness, dispels the view among some clinicians and policy-makers that consumers are not interested in their own health care and do not want responsibility for self-management or even to be involved in shared decision-making.

It found that about two-thirds of respondents with chronic illness had some level of patient activation or self-management in terms of their health care, taking some action or adopting behaviours to support their health.

The results suggested that chronically ill patients with the highest levels of patient activation have improved health care experiences and outcomes compared to those with the lowest patient activation levels.

The study supported CHF’s long-held view that more consumer engagement in health care, both at an individual level and in the design and management of health systems would yield significant advances for health care overall.

This data is timely as Australia embarks on the development of Ten Year Primary Health Care and Prevention Plans, announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt. In NZ the Government has announced in 2018 a commitment to improving access to primary health care along with initiatives to reduce the cost of visiting a general practice for some people.

The Consumers Health Forum has worked to bring consumer insights to national health policy for over thirty years. Despite all that CHF and others involved in consumers shaping health have achieved, there is still a way to go for the role of consumer advocate to be truly valued, and for the system to be truly person-centred.

A person-centred health system requires important shifts in policy. These include moving emphasis from illness to wellness to renew focus and investment in preventative health and integrated primary care in the community.

The Shifting Gears summit provides an unprecedented opportunity for fresh thinking and big ideas in the development of health consumers and the health system.

Shifting Gears Summit 2020

We will be accepting abstract submissions and registrations in early 2020. 

CHF would like to thank our Principal Sponsoring Partners for supporting the CHF 2020 Summit: Shifting Gears.

  • Australian Department of Health
  • NSW Health
  • Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care
  • Australian Digital Health Agency

If you are interested in becoming a partner in the event or have any other enquiries please contact Sandra Gardam at

About the author

Leanne Wells

Leanne Wells

Leanne was Chief Executive of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia from 2014 until August 2022