Prescriptions or groceries?

Managing household expenses is a familiar juggling act for many Australians.

But what if that means making a decision between buying your prescription medication and buying food?

Catherine Fraser said this is exactly the kind of conundrum some members of her community are facing. And it’s this kind of experience that makes consumer engagement so critical for local health organisations.

“My role as Service Development Officer at Your Community Health is about helping to connect our health services to where people are at and supporting communities to be active in their health care and services,” Catherine said.

“When we talk about people who are choosing whether they eat, or buy their prescriptions, it’s worth remembering that often there are other issues as well, like housing, transport and mobility, but not always.”

“We are trying to connect with not just the most articulate, most connected and most engaged community members but especially the most marginalised and vulnerable. We want to know what’s important to them for their health– whether it be food security, social isolation or other things.”

Reaching the most vulnerable

Using a variety of approaches is important to ensure that all segments of the community have a chance to participate in the conversation, according to Catherine.

“The traditional way of engaging consumers by putting them on a committee won’t work for everyone. It works for services, but not always for communities. By nature some people are not necessarily confident or interested in the whole meeting game,” she said.

“For some people – for example people who have had alcohol or drug dependency issues or who are refugees – just walking into a clinic is a huge deal.

“There is work to be done in recognizing those subtle and persistent barriers and what we can be doing about those.”

Everyone’s view is important

Catherine said it was important not to ask people for things they couldn’t give – or in ways they couldn’t connect with.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say or they don’t have really pertinent insights into a policy area. It’s about us thinking about how we present information, ask questions, and being really practical about making it possible for them to be able to present those insights.”

Catherine said Health Issues Centre was a leader in ensuring that consumers were at the forefront of the conversation.

“Health Issues Centre has its ear to the ground and has been able to advocate for consumer and community involvement within the health system and also advocate for consumers,” she said.

“The humanisation of those stories is so important. It’s people’s stories that makes sense of all this beavering away behind the scenes. Being able to bring people’s stories into the thinking of the health sector has been a significant achievement of our organisation.”

Catherine received coaching support from Dr Tere Dawson at Health Issues Centre to assist in developing a Consumer, Carer and Community Participation Framework at Your Community Health. Catherine is also a guest speaker for the Health Issues Centre’s Graduate Certificate in Consumer and Community Engagement (1064NAT).