Barbara Curzon-Siggers, Consumer Representative and member of the Victorian Health Consumers Community of Practice, shares her reflections on our first meeting and amplifies the voices of other members.
The Victorian Health Consumers Community of Practice (CoP) held our first meeting on Tuesday 21 February, supported by Health Issues Centre. A highly diverse and engaged group of 31 members attended the virtual session which focused on an introduction to the CoP, a review of the group Code of Conduct and discussed the challenge of ‘how do we, as advocates, have our voices heard?’
During the session we heard from an experienced Consumer Advisor, Paul Baden, about effective communication skills for health consumers.
We discovered that words are only 7% of our communication. Our tone of voice accounts for 38% but it’s our body language that has the greatest impact, accounting for 55% of what we are conveying.
Being attentive and present, listening, making eye contact and valuing the contributions of all are essential for making us, as advocates, partners in effective communication with other health consumers and health services.
“The art of listening-one of the hardest things to do and get it right.”
“Compassionate communication and compassionate listening”
“Whether I’m communicating through written or verbal formats, I think about “what do I want my audience to think / feel / do?”
CoP members shared that how we communicate depends largely on our audience, whether it be hospital administrators, executive leaders, clinicians or other consumers. It also depends on the context within which we are communicating and sometimes we find ourselves in an environment where we might not feel entirely welcome or understood. It was clear that services needed to put resources towards educating staff on committees that involve consumers about their role and the value that they bring.
How do we, as advocates, have our voices heard?
Breaking into smaller groups, we exchanged ideas and opinions about this question. We talked openly about the challenges we face being seen as leaders within the health system. We shared in-depth insights from our experiences navigating the health services when receiving care and then navigating these same institutions and services as health consumer advocates, representatives and partners.
Some takeaways from the discussion were:
- Find your niche or your ‘lane’. Create your own if it doesn’t exist
- Be strategic – a group working as one voice (such as this COP) assists with having voices heard when we start to strategise about when and how we communicate.
- Build allies, support each other, there is strength in numbers.
- Stay informed and be well prepared so you feel ready to take an active role in meetings.
- Use statements such as “My take away… please consider”.
- Accessibility is key, if it’s not an accessible space, we exclude voices from the conversation. Educate services on how to make their spaces more accessible for everyone.
- Remember we are there because we are consumers, be confident that we are bringing value by seeing issues or opportunities through that lens.
- Creating impact requires passion and persistence.
- Consumer stories can not only illustrate an issue but also encourage others to act – stories are a consumer advocates’ superpower.
Health Issues Centre has a collection of stories highlighting consumers in action here
A message for health services – keep listening to us!
Many of us shared that COVID was a disempowering time because health services lost touch with consumers, the patient voice was absent from meetings and for some, they felt the consumer voice was blocked. We urge services to review and change their policies to ensure that health service networks do not silence the voice of consumers through prolonged periods of cancelled meetings when faced with challenging situations. The consumer voice is more critical than ever in those times.
If you are you wanting to build confidence in having your voice heard as a consumer, we’d love you to join the Victorian Health Consumer Community of Practice – register here