During 2020, RANZCOG established a Consumer Network to provide opportunity for consumers to contribute more substantively to RANZCOG work, and to the pursuit of excellence in women’s health more broadly. This College initiative was based on the successful Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) Women’s Network and Women’s Involvement Panel, a College Facebook group in the UK.
The RANZCOG Consumer Network comprises three elements: the Consumer Network Working Group, a private Consumer Network Facebook Group and the existing consumer representation across various RANZCOG Committees.
The Consumer Network will enable RANZCOG to share, engage and partner with a broad and diverse range of health consumers in Australia and New Zealand. It will provide a forum where consumers can exchange views about what matters to them in relation to the issues on which RANZCOG is working. It will be a touchstone to ensure the College is alive to the perspective of the users of health services and not just that of health practitioners.
As the independent member of the RANZCOG Board and a consumer of women’s health services herself, Julie Hamblin had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to Chair the Consumer Network; ‘I believe deeply that an openness to women’s perspectives will be of huge benefit to RANZCOG in ensuring that we remain focused, relevant and in tune with the issues that are most important to the women whose interests we serve.’
The RANZCOG Consumer Network has eleven members, including the College’s three Committee consumer representatives, five recruited consumer members, RANZCOG trainee representative, Board member Dr Gillian Gibson, an O&G specialist in New Zealand, and Ms Julie Hamblin as the Chair.
Ms Hamblin explains ‘my previous work as a health lawyer taught me that lack of mutual understanding between doctors and their patients is at the heart of many unsatisfactory health outcomes. Integrating medical knowledge and expertise with a real understanding of what the patient wants and needs is the key to good healthcare. It requires humility on the part of health practitioners and an ability to listen to points of view that may be different from their own. It is our ambition that the Consumer Network will bring RANZCOG closer to achieving this goal.’
All interested consumers are encouraged to participate in the Facebook Group, and input is welcomed from family, carers, friends and other support people in addition to patients themselves. It will be a forum in which people can raise concerns as well as provide feedback on RANZCOG’s policy and advocacy work.
RANZCOG is excited about this initiative which has enormous potential to enhance the quality and relevance of RANZCOG’s work. We are looking forward to a new level of engagement with our consumer stakeholders and some challenging and thought-provoking debates around issues of concern.
— Julie Hamblin and Dr Gillian Gibson
Every good care provider knows the value of actively listening to consumers and genuinely partnering with them as part of healthcare delivery. Asking a consumer, ‘How do you feel about that?’ is a very simple way to both engage them in their care and to make space for their input. Similarly, we have learned over time that consumer representation in focus groups, committees and other formal settings is important. Inviting a consumer to attend meetings and respond to draft documents, for example, opens the door to community perspective. These familiar strategies for consumer engagement are essential stepping stones for building trust between clinical and patient communities; these approaches both allow clinicians to test the value and relevance of consumer input, and give consumers a chance to assess how well this input is received and ‘actioned’.
Once established, this foundation allows for more ambitious consumer engagement goals – a bigger database of consumer representatives with a broader variety of roles to play, the inclusion of the consumer voice at earlier stages of service design, a greater, less formal ease of dialogue between clinicians and consumers. With the advent of social media platforms and our more recent shift towards hybrid meeting formats, there has been no better time to further iterate how consumer engagement both looks and happens. Technology allows us to bridge the gap between clinical decision makers and consumers in new ways, including those consumers in the community who might previously have been harder to equitably engage.
In this context, RANZCOG has been quick to recognise and seize this opportunity to employ our ‘new ways of working’ to take consumer engagement to the next level. Our new Consumer Network Working Group (CNWG) is an exciting example of an investment in consumer leadership. It will act as a mechanism by which matters of concern to the women’s healthcare community can be heard. The CNWG is additionally a knowledge base and a link to broader networks upon which the College can call. As a group containing members from across Australia and New Zealand, the transition to Zoom meetings could not have come at a better time for the CNWG. Furthermore, the associated RANZCOG Consumer Network Facebook group now offers an additional opportunity to members of the consumer community beyond the CNWG to join in, learn more about RANZCOG, and build positive working relationships.
I am delighted that RANZCOG has chosen to take these next steps towards a mature and robust model of consumer and community engagement, and I look forward to seeing how these groups continue to evolve and develop with the input of our fantastic consumer members.
— Tessa Kowaliw