The Importance of patient perspective

06 July 2020

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: say the Ws like Vs. Kowaliw is Ukrainian and is pronounced as ‘Ko-va-lyiv’.
For Tessa Kowaliw, helping people to pronounce her surname is something she is used to. “Usually what ends up happening is they [the person she is meeting] go, ‘So, you’re Tessa K…K-’, and they can’t really get past the K,” Tessa says, laughing.
“They then say, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting surname, how do you say that?’, and then you give them the lesson.”
And, that is okay for Tessa, who started out her career as a high school teacher before embarking on her journey as a healthcare educator, consultant, and advocate.
Working with RANZCOG
Tessa is the Community Representative for the RANZCOG Council. In her role, Tessa provides a consumer’s perspective on matters considered by the College’s Council in relation to women's healthcare in Australia and New Zealand.
“I have found the experience really valuable and feel quite honoured to have been given the opportunity,” Tessa says. “It has given me a really heightened appreciation for the complexity of maternity service delivery, and an appreciation of the journey undertaken by RANZCOG trainees and Fellows, such as what that represents in terms of personal time investment and commitment to ongoing education.”
This work sees Tessa attend College House during Council Week for meetings. During the coronavirus crisis, however, Tessa has been a familiar face via Zoom. Tessa, who is currently Chief Learning Officer of a software company based in Adelaide, has high praise for the College’s reaction to the recent COVID-19 Pandemic. “It has been amazing how quickly the College adapted and embraced digital technology,” she says. “The College is to be commended for how it has continued making both operational processes and COVID-19-related guidelines accessible to members and consumers alike.”
The consumer voice
Tessa is dedicated to bridging the gap between healthcare services and the consumers they serve, and to helping to develop a healthcare system which is responsive to consumer needs.
Her interest in the field was initially driven by the birth of her first child via emergency Caesarean. “It was a very normal, healthy pregnancy and it ended in a very traumatic experience of delivery,” says Tessa, a mum of three.
“At the time, it just didn’t make sense - I wanted to know why that pregnancy lead to such a traumatic birth. I needed to find the answer so that I could avoid a similar birth next time.
“What happened was that, as I went into that rabbit-hole, I connected with a local consumer group with a special focus on Caesarean birth, and started to meet other women who had had a similar experience. I realised my experience was not unique, but a symptom of something that was happening in the health system at a macro level.
“With my teacher hat on, I realised that part of what was happening was that important information wasn’t getting to where it needed to go; it was not coming from the healthcare system to the consumers in the way that it needed to, but similarly, it was not coming from consumers and back into the system, either.
“We need to close that loop.”
A journey of teaching consumers how to access balanced information, build a support network and be empowered ensued.
“Much of my work since that moment has been in bringing the patient perspective into healthcare, and helping consumers to better understand the systems in which they birth, too,” she explains. “We need to get a more three-dimensional understanding of the outcomes which matter most to consumers.”
Tessa holds a consumer role with Women's Healthcare Australasia, has been involved with the Women’s & Children’s Hospital Network (Adelaide), and is a co-author on the International Consortium of Health Outcome Measurement (ICHOM) standard set for pregnancy and childbirth. She has presented on value-based healthcare (VBHC) models and patient-reported outcome and experience measurements (PROMs/PREMs) for ICHOM (London and Washington), the Birth Care Symposium (Utrecht), and the Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA).
Tessa runs a consumer education group with a focus on Caesarean birth and Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC).
She provides consultation services to consumers and service providers alike within the birth and broader healthcare community.
Starting out as a teacher and branching out into digital learning
Teaching runs in Tessa’s family.
“I come from a long line of teachers in my family,” she says. Graduating with a Graduate Diploma in Education from the University of Adelaide, Tessa specialised in English and German.
“The thing I love about teaching is it gives you a lot of contact with other humans, and you can really make a difference to tomorrow’s generation of adults. That was the appeal of high school teaching for me,” she says.
“Whilst I’m not teaching currently, I am still in a classroom of sorts - I now get to work with adults from a range of industries to teach them how to make the most of the digital learning opportunities available to them and their companies.”
Enjoying aerial yoga
Amid raising three children, her professional work, and her health and advocacy work, Tessa says she has recently started aerial yoga as a form of relaxation. “It is just so fun. Hanging upside down and from ropes makes you feel like a child again,” she says. “I leave the session feeling so energised.”

Presenting the patient perspective at the ICHOM conference,
London, 2016

Tessa with Heather Frahn (holding guitar) and the participants of the
Birthing Stories project, 2017

Presenting to UniSA midwifery students, 2015.

Tessa with her three children, Max, Edith and Ruth

Hanging around at aerial yoga in the Adelaide parklands



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