About consumer representation

Benefits of consumer participation

In 2001, the Consumer Focus Collaboration summarised the evidence of how consumer participation contributed to a range of outcomes related to the health system. The document noted that:

  • Active consumer participation in decision-making in individual care leads to improvements in health outcomes
  • Access to quality information facilitates decision-making and supports an active role for consumers in managing their own health
  • Active consumer participation leads to more accessible and effective health services
  • Effective consumer participation in quality improvement and service development activities in health services is achieved through the adoption of a range of methods
  • Effective consumer participation uses methods that facilitate participation by those traditionally marginalised by mainstream health services
  • Active involvement of consumers at all levels of the development, implementation and evaluation of health strategies and programs is integral to their success.

Consumer participation today

One of the most prevalent approaches to consumer participation in Australia is the appointment of a consumer representative on government committees. More committees now include consumers than a decade ago. However, the consumer is often a lone voice amongst many health care professionals, service providers, industry and government representatives. Consumer representatives need access to training and support in order to be effective in influencing committee outcomes, and in dealing with the unfamiliar culture and practices of professional committees.

Isn't everyone a health care consumer?

Of course, most people have been health care consumers at some point in their lives. However, not every committee member can represent consumers. Other committee members such as service providers, health care professionals, industry representatives and government officers are usually placed on the committee to represent those perspectives. They cannot do this and represent consumers at the same time. Only those people whose primary experience is as a consumer can represent consumer views because their judgement is not clouded by another perspective.

What is a consumer representative?

A consumer representative is a member of a government, professional body, industry or non-governmental organisation committee who voices consumer perspectives and takes part in the decision-making process on behalf of consumers. This person is nominated by, and is accountable to, an organisation of consumers.

What is the role of a consumer representative?

The role of a consumer representative is to provide a consumer perspective. This often differs from a bureaucratic, service provider, industry, academic or professional perspective. The role of the consumer representative involves:

  • Protecting the interests of consumers, service users and potential service users
  • Presenting how consumers may think and feel about certain issues
  • Contributing consumer experiences
  • Ensuring the committee recognises consumer concerns
  • Reporting the activities of the committee to consumers
  • Ensuring accountability to consumers
  • Acting as a watchdog on issues affecting consumers
  • Providing information about any relevant issues affecting consumers

Limits to the role of a consumer representative

A committee should not expect the consumer representative to:

  • Have a technical background in the subject under discussion. The consumer representative provides consumer perspectives on an issue. Most consumers are not technical experts in medicine or research but have legitimate interests in it.
  • Undertake consumer consultations beyond what is required to inform their own input at the meeting or to ensure their own accountability to their constituency. If wider consumer consultation is required, the consumer representative can advise the committee on how this might be achieved but should not undertake the work themselves. CHF should be made aware of any such requests to consumer representatives.
  • Speak for CHF. The consumer representative represents consumers, not CHF as an organisation. Only the Chairperson and the Chief Executive Officer are authorised to speak publicly for CHF.