WA News Guest Opinion / Editorial More Data, More Care
More Data, More Care
Written by Pip Brennan
Friday, 28 April 2017



It wouldn’t be completely earth-shattering news to hear that many people feel quite strongly that our health system doesn’t make it all that easy for consumers to make fact-based decisions about their health.

This includes some pretty basic information such as the best place to have your baby, where to have your hip replacement or even some cautionary advice on rehabilitation after a surgical procedure. 

We have consent forms that are information-rich but a consumer is expected to sign the form and accept that they won’t get a copy unless they specifically ask for their medical records. Consumer Medicine Information sheets are not routinely provided by pharmacies and information about tests and treatments can be difficult for consumers to access amidst the confusion and noise of the internet.


Over the past few years, individual advocacy cases at the Health Consumer Council regularly feature consumer confusion about what to do post-discharge. One woman had her treatment for kidney disease amended to include medication. Unfortunately, she was under the impression that was instead of dialysis – not, as well as.

That sort of confusion can be fatal. Luckily, it wasn’t the case on this occasion.

The point being that there are many different aspects of patient care and one of them is that the facts should be easily available to the consumer. It is no small wonder that consumers are mistakenly asking for tests that will, in all likelihood, have no appreciable positive effect on their outcomes. In most cases they simply are not aware of all the options.

In the absence of publicly available information, the onus is on the health service provider to have the necessary conversation to ensure the patient is making the right choice for their specific circumstances.

It goes under the banner of Shared Decision Making and, as the name implies, it requires the sharing of information. It’s also, in a very real sense, a sharing of power with health consumers. It underlines the importance of conversations with patients and families. There must be some understanding and respect when substitute decision-makers are appointed by consumers.

It recognises the important difference between asking a consumer ‘what’s the matter?’ and ‘what matters to you?’ It acknowledges the all-important fact that the biggest impact always falls on the consumer’s shoulders when unhelpful treatment choices are made.

I’ll leave the final word to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care:

“Better-informed patients often make different, more conservative and less costly choices regarding treatment. [Hopefully] such information provides a realistic appreciation of likely benefits and risks and enables decisions to be made about potential outcomes in a more considered way.”