If the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that consumer engagement is key to fighting infection. For society to beat this new pathogen, the science and the role of infection prevention and control had to be clear: how a pandemic occurs, how to prevent transmission, how to stay safe. To curb widespread COVID-19 outbreaks, every individual had to understand their role and participate.
Consumer engagement, or public engagement, is the uptake by the public of certain behaviours. During COVID-19, the public was encouraged to take greater responsibility for social hygiene. Walking into public spaces over the past year, the increased levels of social awareness towards infection prevention and control are evident. From distancing, cough etiquette and hand hygiene, individuals, businesses, media and government have taken a collaborative approach to IPC, reinforcing basic standard precautions.
But consumer engagement isn’t just a public health issue. Consumer engagement in health provision is actively moving towards models such as co-design, where the consumer is engaged with the provider in the design and delivery of their care. Although co-design is a relatively new concept to medicine, the underpinning principle of sharing leadership and responsibility towards outcomes provides agency for those receiving care and support for those providing it.
Co-design is promoted as a way for consumers to contribute towards their health outcomes, or the health outcomes of people close to them. It encourages people to take an interest in their behaviour and encourage them to make better outcomes for everyone around them. Collectively, this can have significant benefits, as we’ve seen with mask use in Australia and New Zealand.
Co-design for Infection Prevention and Control
Infection prevention and control programmes and their clinical functions are traditionally the responsibility and realm of the service provider and health professional. While this leadership and oversight remain vital, it is going to be important post-pandemic to continue the momentum of engaging consumer participation for the reduction of infections, most significantly in aged care, for the quality of life of our elderly.
There are many areas within IPC where increased consumer leadership and responsibility is beneficial, from continuing the promotion of basics like hand hygiene and cough etiquette, to more complex health preservation issues like immunisation and antimicrobial education.
Families want to know how to keep their loved ones safe and well, and the elderly need the provision of good healthcare, without the unnecessary burden of infection.
Implementing co-design and consumer engagement
Aged care facilities can promote ‘co-design’ within an infection prevention and control scope by introducing and equipping consumer–leaders or ‘resident representatives' into the planning of IPC initiatives. This entails teaching and empowering those receiving the care (and their families) with the knowledge and information to participate and lead the delivery of IPC objectives within facilities.
Dr Chris Walsh, director at the New Zealand Health Quality and Safety Commission, recently attended the virtual Consumer Health Forum summit and offered some insight into key directions needed to improve consumer outcomes across Australia and New Zealand.
“One thing both countries might collaborate more on is a shared understanding of how the growth and development of consumer leadership is critical to shaping and influencing the future of health services in our respective countries. Consumer leadership would benefit from active high-level engagement by providers and agencies across health who understand the value of good, effective and confident well-informed consumer leaders ‘sitting at the table’.” (paraphrased)
There are many considerations and ways to engage consumers with our IPC programmes. While there is no one-size-fits-all-approach, however, we can use the gains we have in social involvement and readily incorporate consumers into our planning, applying a ‘with’ (people) rather than ‘for’ or ‘at’ (people) approach.
Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.