A National Forum on Safety and Quality in Healthcare is underway in Canberra this week. Those attending will today hear today from patient advocate Stephanie Newell about how consumers and healthcare providers can better work together.

Stephanie speaks from personal experience and was moved to advocate for other consumers after the death of her son.

Stephanie Newell writes:

Studies show that 10% of people who go into hospital are harmed in some way and that over 50% of the harm that occurs to patients is preventable.

Healthcare overall is currently overlooking a rich and readily accessible resource that can make a very big difference to reducing and preventing harm to patients.

This resource is the information provided by the patient. Patients must be listened to and the valuable information they provide about their bodies must be taken into account and then acted upon.

After all patients have an intimate knowledge of their own bodies. They know when something isn’t right or when something is happening because they experience it at a physical level.

The events surrounding my son’s death shone a light brightly on this aspect of healthcare for me. My son died during birth.

I gave medical staff some information at critical points and my information was not acted upon.

My son’s delivery was delayed. Vital medical equipment was not ready for use and poor communication between members of my care team compounded the devastation of this event.

It is very common for patients who have experienced an error or harm in healthcare to cite “I kept telling them what was wrong but no one was listening to me”.

Patients and their family members not being listened to, poor communication between health professionals, and inaction were strong messages that came out of the Australian Patients for Patient Safety Workshop that I co-organised last year. This message has been incorporated as one of the tenets of the Perth Declaration for Patient Safety, which was developed at the workshop. (It can be downloaded here by clicking on the patient for patient safety workshop icon).

This workshop brought together health professionals, policy makers and health consumers (many of whom had experienced healthcare harm) to learn from each other’s experiences and develop tools and strategies to improve patient safety, such as the Perth Declaration, and to take these forward together.

Through my association with organisations such as Consumers Health Forum of Australia and the World Health Organization’s Patients for Patient Safety programme, I’ve represented consumers in a range of healthcare forums at a local, national and international level.

In the course of partnering with health professionals and government bodies, I see the focus is shifting from a culture of not including patients in discussions and decisions about their own care to one that is now starting to focus on patient-centred care, which ensures that the patient is an equal and central partner in their own care.

There is still much to be done to expand on this good work and ensure consistency throughout  all areas and levels of the health system occurs.

Listening to patients and working in partnership together is critical to people’s outcomes and also to making the health system safer, responsive and patient centred.

For patients, this means being an active participant in your healthcare and speaking up in all healthcare arenas, not just in hospital.

For health professionals this means listening to the patient, asking for their input and acting upon the information that patients give.

It could save a life.

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You can also hear Stephanie Newell’s interview on ABC RN’s Life Matters.

For further information about these issues, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has recently released a discussion paper on patient-centred care.

Tomorrow’s post from the forum will focus on why hospitals need to lift their game when it comes to human resources management.

For the previous posts in this series:

Brenda Ainsworth
http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2010/10/22/kicking-off-a-series-on-safety-and-quality-in-health-care/

• Jeffrey Braithwaite
http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2010/10/25/how-health-care-can-learn-from-disasters-like-chernobyl/

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