We examined perceived barriers that prevented health professionals from engaging with consumer representatives in health service improvements. In this paper we describe how attitudes changed from uninterested to fully engaged after attendance at a health service co-design workshop. International findings show an improvement in personal health when consumers have an opportunity to collaborate with health professionals in service improvement opportunities.
We used a self-administered survey (N = 68) to understand health professionals’ attitudes to consumer engagement prior to a 3-hour workshop on the New Zealand designed health service co-design guide and toolkit. Participants attended a workshop which saw health professionals and consumer representatives’ work together to practise the principles of co-design. After the workshop a second self-administered survey was completed to establish whether there had been a change of attitude.
The results showed, as hypothesised, time constraints were a barrier to consumer engagement. An unanticipated finding was that prior to the workshops health professionals indicated low interest in working with consumer representatives. This shifted significantly following attendance at the workshop.
A second unanticipated result was that health professionals, both prior to and after the workshops, did not believe consumer representatives had the skills to work with them.
The finding that health professionals maintained a perception that consumer representatives did not have the skills to work with them, indicated that additional research is needed into organisational culture in the health sector and the role power plays in shaping and embedding attitudes.
Funding release time for professionals to attend service improvement meetings, without addressing other concerns raised in this study around attitude, organisational culture and power, will not change the perception or attitudes of the health professionals and therefore will not sustain service improvement collaboration. Additional work places strategies are required.
This study is limited by a low response rate to the surveys and further investigation will be undertaken to clarify these findings.