Helping patients to help themselves is good for the health economy

 Australia’s premier scientific body, the CSIRO has pinpointed empowering consumers as a key to improving Australia’s health, confirming a message the Consumers Health Forum has highlighted for years.

In its Future of Health report, the CSIRO put “empowering consumers” as its number one point in shifting Australia’s focus from illness treatment to health and wellbeing management.

“The report states that consumers are an ‘underutilised resource in the health sector’, which CHF is seeking to turn around by encouraging consumer involvement in the direction and design of health care services wherever possible,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells said.

“As the report says, consumers can be empowered by a greater focus on the prevention of illness, and manage their health by improving health literacy, reducing information asymmetry, expanding telehealth services and developing consumer-focused health solutions.

“It states that 60 per cent of 15–74-year-olds have low levels of health literacy. The real-world consequence of that is that more than half of Australians are not aware of how to maintain the best of health, access the treatments they need and ask the right questions of health care providers. While Australia boasts a fine health workforce, their contribution to care can be maximised by well-informed consumers who are actively engaged in their health care, who ask questions of their clinicians, who follow through on their care plans, and who know how to enjoy a healthy life.

“The report cautions that while Australians rank among the healthiest people in the world, largely due to high standard of living, education and access to healthcare, we spend an average of 11 years in ill-health, the highest among OECD countries.

“Our high overall health status rates well, however when that is considered against the 10-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and high rates of overweight and obesity, 63 per cent of adults, and the failure of the majority of Australians to eat healthy diets, show there is room for improvement.

Future of Health finds that inequity in access and experience will improve by shifting away from a one-size-fits-all model and that consumer demand, new technology and digital health developments are posing big changes.

“Digital and health literacy are fast becoming prerequisites for receiving and delivering the best health support and this is an area where we as a community must ensure that all Australians can experience and benefit,” Ms Wells said.

“The CSIRO’s conclusions line up with data in a recent UK Health Foundation report which shows that patients most able to manage their health conditions had 38% fewer emergency department admissions and 32% fewer ED attendances than those least able, as well as having 18% fewer GP appointments.

“An investment in preventative health programs and services in settings where people commonly seek help such as general practice that support patients to better manage their health condition is an investment in the sustainability and performance of our health system.”




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Mark Metherell
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