A greater role for pharmacists could be one of several approaches in creating a more patient-focused health care system, says Leanne Wells, CEO of the Consumers Health Forum.
Speaking at the Ian Webster Health for All Oration to the annual forum of the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, Wells outlined a need for greater health literacy among consumers and a place for them closer to the centre of the health care system.
“Health professions should be prepared to meet the consumer where it’s convenient for the consumer,” she says.
“For primary care, this might mean expanding services in pharmacies, having better after-hours services, making better use of telemedicine, coming into consumers’ homes and offices or in-reaching to supported homes and offices or in-reaching to supported accommodation and crisis homelessness services.”
Clinicians also need to be open to working across the traditional clinical boundaries, Wells says.
“The future for specialists may be beyond the hospital’s four walls.”
Self management programs embedded in primary care, consumer involvement in health care research, clinicians’ education and CPD that promotes patients as partners in care and teams of allied health professionals looking after the consumer could also be implemented, she says.
She says it is vitally important that health stakeholders exploit the benefits of health literacy, the “activated patient” and consumer-centred care.
The ill-fated GP co-payment was the “shot in the arm” that health policy needed, says Wells.
“It reinforced for all of us that good policy stems from the basic question: what problem are we trying to solve? There’s no doubt it jolted all the health players into renewed, vigorous debate about our aspirations for our health care system.”
Australia needs a modern, fit-for-purpose health system that serves the country’s needs now, not as they were 30 or so years ago when Medicare was designed, she says.
“And that means primary health care access for all including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.
“We need to take a holistic approach look at analyse what works and what doesn’t work about primary health care in Australia.
“Consumer health literacy and empowerment is not the soft underbelly. It is not the optional extra.”
Low health literacy may be associated with a 3 to 5% extra cost to the health system, citing a national report on the subject which also showed only about 40% of adults have a level of individual health literacy that will allow them to follow health messages and make good choices.