Consumer representation - the big picture

What is a consumer representative?

A consumer representative is a committee member who voices the consumer perspective and takes part in the decision making process on behalf of consumers. This person is usually nominated by, and is accountable to, an organisation of consumers.

Consumer representatives often hear other committee members say that they are also a consumer and can act as a consumer representative. Everyone is a consumer, but not every committee member can represent consumers. Other committee members such as service providers, researchers or professionals are usually placed on the committee to represent those perspectives. They cannot possibly do this and represent consumers at the same time. Only those people whose primary experience is as a consumer can represent a consumer perspective because their judgment is not clouded by another perspective.

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 a consumer representative involves:

  • protecting the interests of consumers
  • presenting how consumers may feel and think about certain issues
  • contributing the consumer experience
  • ensuring the committee recognises consumer concerns
  • reporting the activities of the committee to consumers
  • ensuring accountability to consumers
  • acting as an advocate for issues affecting consumers by providing the committee information on any issues affecting consumers.
  • flagging the need for the committee to undertake consumer consultation where necessary eg. with marginalised groups.

The importance of consumer representatives

The consumer representative plays an important role in any committee. Consumers bring an essential and unique perspective and can contribute to better decision-making by providing a balance to the views of healthcare professionals, policy makers and business managers.

Research from around the world indicates that better health outcomes result if consumers are involved in decision-making. Engaging with consumers can contribute to powerful outcomes including:

  • more robust decisions
  • smoother implementation
  • promotes consumer confidence
  • links with community

Consumer rights

Consumer organisations worldwide use consumer rights to lobby on behalf of consumers and validate the views of consumers. These principles were adopted by the United Nations Assembly on 9 April 1985.

Consumer organisations have adapted the UN Principles to their own areas, for example, the Consumers Health Forums Consumer Health Rights pamphlet.

In 2008, Australian Health Ministers endorsed the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights was developed after wide consultation and specifies the key rights of patients and consumers when seeking or receiving healthcare services. The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights provides a framework for health-care providers to give consumers high quality care and for consumers to actively seek the best care. Key rights relate to access, safety, respect, communication, participation, privacy and comment.

Consumer representatives can use these consumer rights to remind them of their commitment to consumer issues. The rights are useful for supporting your argument or putting forward a consumer perspective when there are no clear views from consumers, or if there are differing views amongst consumers.

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