The important questions

A woman looks at graphs, charts and projections on the wall.

The important questions

A woman looks at graphs, charts and projections on the wall.

APA General Manager, Policy and Government Relations Simon Tatz explores the crucial role of surveys and feedback in the healthcare sector and asks APA members to help.

Addressing a major conference on mental health, a keynote speaker asked attendees staying at the hotel venue if they had noticed the customer feedback form on the bureau in each guestroom.

Most had.

The speaker noted that the venue of the mental health conference asked more pertinent and important questions than most healthcare practitioners and patients will ever be asked.

The hospitality industry actually has a better understanding of surveys and feedback than the health system.

They genuinely want to know whether they met your expectations and standards, how each ‘service’ performed, whether you’ll return and what they could do better.

These survey questions are not just about the client; they guide the resourcing, strategy and investment of the service provider.

However, they also have their downside—they often include ‘leading’ questions to steer consumers towards ‘yes’ answers.

 Clearly, what’s great for marketing can be terrible for research.

The health sector is slowly adopting similar methodologies and practices.

Discharge and post-treatment questions allow providers to hear the ‘voice’ of patients and clients.

Sometimes called ‘satisfaction surveys’, they are being used more regularly to guide improved standards of care.

Slowly, slowly as we make the transition to value-based healthcare, these quality measures, in prioritising the patient viewpoint through patient-reported outcome measures, help to emphasise that it is outcomes that matter most.

Unfortunately, these aims seem light-years away in Australia—in stark contrast to the UK’s patient-reported outcome measures program that began more than a decade ago.

Surveys are a research method used for collecting data from a predefined group of respondents.

In an association as large and diverse as the APA, gaining insight into members’ views and opinions and extrapolating their information, intentions and expertise is essential for advocacy and activism.

The APA already undertakes vital surveys in the form of the annual member satisfaction survey, education module feedback and National Advisory Council-led calls for member insights.

But we want to delve more deeply.

For advocacy purposes, we know that member input can be very persuasive.

There is nothing more powerful than sitting in front of a minister with the most current data on retention, combined with critical retention factors that provide intention-to-leave information.

In the current skills crisis, making exit interviews count is now a key priority for most organisations.

For us, it is retention that matters most and we’re looking to prioritise an annual workforce census to fill the knowledge and data gaps that take away from the strength of our message.

To build a strong case in our workforce advocacy, we currently need to extract information from a range of sources with a reasonable amount of supply-side data, albeit piecemeal.

However, the demand side is significantly lacking and we need to supplement this through formal membership insights.

Major gaps exist in currently available data on the healthcare workforce.

For example, there are a number of trends affecting the future supply of physiotherapists and we don’t fully understand the labour market dynamics influencing these trends.

More focus is required on futureproofing the profession through workforce planning that encompasses supply-and-demand analyses.

We can’t afford to wait on a national allied health dataset—not that we’re letting them off the hook.

We’re just giving the government time to settle in.

Surveys can take us to new depths in important areas such as practice viability and on specific issues such as the reliance of a practitioner on the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for income.

This focus ensures a more targeted data build encompassing a qualitative analysis of our threats, which can be used to build a risk profile and make informed decisions about how we prioritise.

Surveys also help to identify and respond to short-, medium- and long-term issues facing our discipline.

They unpack the geographical imbalances so that we can better monitor the distribution of our workforce, test retention factors and understand barriers to practice.

They work to provide policy insights to address barriers on the supply side, including workforce supplementation strategies in skilled migration.

With such a strong student base, we can also use surveys to gain important insights from the next generation.

The use of Quick Polls will be part of our toolkit and we will be using these for temperature checks.

More formal research is also needed in areas that fall outside of our own dataset, particularly in examining the attrition rate.

This is where you come in.

In the coming months, APA members will receive survey questions asking your assistance on issues such as career intentions, skills, practice viability, workforce matters and demand.

We need APA members’ help and engagement to ensure that these annual surveys have robust and reliable data.

One reason we need this is that governments keep investing in ‘strategies’.

There is a strategy or plan for everything, from aged care to obesity, from Indigenous health to elite sporting success.

The problem is that governments don’t always have a workforce available to deliver on their promises.

The debate about nursing in residential aged care is a topical example.

As a member-based association, it is vital that we have detailed information about the state of the profession: who works where, the ‘pipeline’ of future physiotherapists, demand and supply issues, practice viability and intentions.

This information will help us to be better advocates for the physiotherapy profession.

The more we know and understand, the better we will be able to represent you.


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