A special group making a difference to patients at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse

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There is a special group of people at Sydney’s Chris O’Brien Lifehouse ensuring the voice of the patient is at the heart of everything that happens at the cancer care treatment centre.

The Lifehouse Partnership Advisory Council (PAC) was formed in 2013 and is made up of cancer survivors, carers and consumers.

The council informs the development of policies, procedures, and communication approaches that impact on the patient experience, and represents the patient voice in Lifehouse governance committees.

And now, their mission is expanding. The PAC is engaging with private healthcare funds, advocating once again for a bigger voice for patients.

PAC co-chair, Claude Gauchat, said it was vital for patients to be as informed as possible.

“We have been talking to health funds, ensuring there is a structure in place there for consumer engagement,” he said.

“People have become more discerning about how they spend their money, particularly this year with COVID, and we believe there is a role there for health funds to meet people’s higher expectations, and meet that value.”

Mr Gauchat added healthcare funds, like all other businesses in 2020, were facing new challenges.

“Experienced consumer councils like the PAC can play a valuable role in collaboration with funds, to better engage with their consumers,” he said.

“And we want to ensure that patients are informed about their options – specialised, top level cancer care is available and it’s important for patients to know they can have access to specialty services.”

 Lifehouse Partnership Advisory Council co-chair Jane Cockburn

Mr Gauchat said partnering with the healthcare funds was ultimately a real win for patients but also for the industry as a whole.

“While the end goal is better access for patients to the specialist care they need, healthcare funds will benefit from a better understanding of their consumers’ needs and the ability to offer more apt products as a result,” he said.

While 2020 had been a challenging year, Mr Gauchat added it also offered opportunity and the chance to push forward with some innovations that may have been put on the back burner.

“One of the things we’re really looking at is telehealth and the potential for development there,” he said.

“Of course, we need to be aware of patients of different age groups, and enable them to see the benefits of telehealth and to help them engage with it. And for regional patients, having access to telehealth consultations with specialists –  if a physical appointment is not required – is great.

“Within the hospital itself, we’ve seen restrictions on visitors, so we’ve had tablets there for patients to be able to interact with their family members while they’re receiving treatment.”

Other PAC projects include improving the patient experience through physical environment design and early involvement of consumers in the design of research projects.

“It’s vital to have the patient more involved in decision making,” Mr Gauchat said.

“Everyone on the council, we’re all very passionate about what we’re doing at Lifehouse and we’re glad to be able to give our time.”

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