Building better health care with consumers

Dr Brett Scholz

Dr Brett Scholz

Tall Poppy winner Dr Brett Scholz aims to shake up the health care system by incorporating the experiences of users.  

ANU expert Dr Brett Scholz says consumers of health care know the system in a completely different way to a medical professional.

"They’ve had to deal with the noisy waiting room as they anticipate the results of their cancer screening, and they’ve experienced the limited selection of food options from the hospital café as they undergo their third week of outpatient recovery," Dr Scholz said.

"Not to mention only they understand how certain experiences can marginalise them."

It’s this line of thinking that inspired Dr Scholz’s research on how to better include patients and their loved ones in health care decisions.

These decisions have traditionally been made by medical professionals, allied health workers, and policy makers. Dr Scholz is re-imagining this by bringing health care recipients into the discussions and decisions that directly affect them.

While those receiving health care have significant first-hand experience and knowledge in these systems, "their expertise often goes unrecognised", according to Dr Scholz.

"Their experience provides much needed balance in the decision making process," he said.

His research in this area has won him the  Australian Capital Territory 2021 Young Tall Poppy Science Award , and along with his colleague Professor Imogen Mitchell a joint nomination for the  Research Australia Awards  to be announced in December, this year.

"When I started my research career some years ago, I was lucky enough to work in an organisation that had an identified role for a consumer researcher," he says.

"It made me aware of how I had been oblivious to the expertise and invaluable knowledge consumers have.

"Over the past six years I’ve co-conceptualised and co-authored about two-thirds of my research with people who have a lived experience of illness.

"I also try to collaborate with consumers in the delivery of my teaching so that medical students can learn first-hand about consumer experiences and see me modelling what a partnership between a consumer and another health professional might look like."

As for the future, Dr Scholz would like to see a wider variety of consumer groups included in decision making across the health care sector, such as people with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older adults and younger consumers.

"I’m focused on continuing to support the expansion and extension of consumer led work so that we end up with a health system that truly partners with consumers in policy, service, education and research."

Thanks to his Tall Poppy award, he’s been given another platform from which to raise awareness about this important work.

"When I think about research work that wins awards, qualitative research that advocates for social change is not the type of work that typically springs to mind," Dr Scholz said.

"So, I’m very thankful and happy that the work I love to do has been recognised and I’m able to raise further awareness about consumer leadership."

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