Does health care feel safe right now?

Queensland Health has just released two new videos and key messaging, which consumers and the team here recently reviewed, to reassure the public that hospitals are open and ready to provide safe and essential care. Their release comes after staff raised concerns about patients not attending scheduled appointments or going to hospital when they are very unwell or in need of urgent care.

Experienced consumers had already highlighted the lack of information for consumers about what hospitals were doing to make them feel safe. Good communication prior to a visit is important. Once there, consumers then feel more comfortable about the practices in place to ensure their safety. It is encouraging to see that the videos have incorporated this feedback and acknowledge the confusion caused by the changes in public messages.

In order to assist Queensland Health to deepen its understanding of what matters to patients and continue to build renewed trust and confidence, this week we asked our COVID-19 Community of Interest, CAG Leaders, members of the Health Consumers Collaborative of Queensland and our own Consumer Advisory Group if healthcare feels safe to them right now in public hospitals and health service settings. Specifically:

    • Are measures such as PPE and distancing enough to make you feel protected? Are they being used adequately in healthcare you have experienced recently?
    • Are distancing guidelines being followed by others, or being enforced by the healthcare service?
    • After being in lockdown for weeks, do you feel confident to go out in public to seek healthcare?

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Being safe and feeling safe when receiving healthcare

From what consumers shared, a picture emerged of mixed messaging, inconsistent application of protective and safety measures, and varying levels of confidence in the health system’s ability to keep patients safe from potential infection. Some people feel frightened, vulnerable and forgotten.

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A Change for the Better?

The way we receive and experience health care has changed so quickly during the past few months. As with any situation, both challenges and opportunities have come from living through a global pandemic. While the negatives are easy to identify, we have also seen Queensland Health: ​

  • Involve consumers in new and innovative ways ​
  • Quickly implement new models of care​ such as widespread access to telehealth and hospital in the home
  • Reduce care that is of low benefit ​
  • Roll out changes that have been long suggested but have not previously gained traction ​
  • Achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness of established care models. ​

Meanwhile, here at Health Consumers Queensland, we are connecting and consulting directly with consumers far more than we ever have, in newly adopted ways, and we’ve been able to amplify your voices with greater impact, urgency and meaning than ever before.

And what do consumers think? As the Queensland Clinical Senate gears up to meet with its clinicians on 18 May to explore the innovative practices in health care which have been developed during COVID-19, Health Consumers Queensland has embraced the opportunity this week to ask our consumer groups to reflect on what the public health system’s response has meant to them.

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Positives and innovations consumers want to keep after COVID-19

Consumers outlined the positives and innovations they would like maintained during COVID-19 and beyond including improved consumer engagement, the collaborative, timely and effective decision-making at both the system level and at point-of-care, telehealth and virtual care, and that mental health is given equal weight alongside physical health.

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Helping the health system navigate towards the ‘new normal’

A consumer recently described the challenge facing Queensland Health as it pivoted to face a pandemic on a scale not previously experienced during the past 100 years, as like expecting “a massive ship to turn on a dime.”

Indeed, at Health Consumers Queensland we have never seen the health system work this hard and this collaboratively to care for its consumers. Bureaucracy and inflexibility have given way to connectedness, transparency and agility as different departments, HHSs and other health sectors (private and community), community controlled health organisations and NGOs share resources, information and expertise to prepare staff and consumers if the curve could not be controlled.

Around the world we have seen how public health systems have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19 who have required life-saving care. As tough restrictions were imposed across Australia at the end of March, it looked as if we would be following in their wake. However, as the past week has demonstrated, we are instead recording fewer and fewer positive cases.

Now Australia finds itself in a unique position worldwide. Our health systems, including Queensland Health, must turn on their axes once more and re-calibrate as they seek to navigate a ‘’new normal” where a constant state of readiness for COVID-19 can co-exist alongside a reinstatement of some regular health care services including some elective surgery.

Yet just because Queensland Health is able to open up elective surgery right now does not mean it won’t have to suspend it again. We know that this virus is unpredictable and ever-changing and we cannot afford to be complacent.

It will be Queensland Health’s ability to co-design sensitive clinical responses and communication mechanisms with consumers and carers which will help its staff and consumers cope with this level of uncertainty and change, and maintain confidence in its decisions and actions.

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