Before introducing consumer representation into an existing structure, have a plan for doing so, and orient existing members. A common mistake is viewing consumer training as the only need; effective consumer engagement requires engaging the other stakeholders about why, how, and what will change. Once together, build camaraderie and a sense of equality with social engagement, such as a meal. Consumers involved in practice improvement in Oregon and Maine have noted the difference such a simple social element makes in cultivating a sense of partnership.
Rather than consulting consumers for input once a project is nearly complete, integrate them into the goal-setting process, and then work together to shape and execute strategies. Consumer involvement becomes an integral part of the multi-stakeholder process, rather than an add-on. This practice both improves the final product and reinforces consumers’ integral role. For example, early in AF4Q, several Alliances sought input from consumers on website design for publiclyreported information on health care quality. This process proved challenging in cases when the design was complete and consumers were asked to react to, rather than to shape, it. Opportunities for revisions were limited, and some consumers did not feel fully involved. In contrast, three Alliances—Greater Boston, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—engaged consumers in the design phase of a public reporting effort with Consumer Reports. Integrating consumer input from the beginning enhanced both process and product.
Close the feedback loop. If consumers provide input into something, it is important to share the outcome with them, whether the input was implemented or not.
Be purposeful, respectful, and fair in efforts to recognize and compensate consumer participation. Any compensation policy should be consistent and transparent, and should at minimum cover costs incurred (e.g., transportation). Non-monetary recognition can also help convey the message that consumers’ time is valuable. For example, some practices issue patient advisors identification badges or display a photo of the patient advisory group in the waiting room.
Demonstrate willingness to learn, adapt, evaluate, and change—both in terms of assessing and improving care, and assessing and improving on the consumer engagement work.