Judy McCahon and Barry Baulch are dynamic consumer representatives for the MACH Care of the Ageing committee. They provide insightful and meaningful contributions to our researchers and are valued members of our community.

According to the Consumer Health Forum of Australia, community and consumer representatives “represent the voices of consumers and take part in the decision-making process on behalf of consumers”. Consumer representatives can be involved with government and health organisations, industry bodies and research committees as well as wide variety of other activities.

The Journey to becoming a consumer representative

Personal experience for both Judy and Barry was a key factor for becoming involved as consumer health care representatives.

For Judy, caring for her late partner who had Alzheimer’s Disease meant that she was no longer able to work on a full-time basis. For her, it required that she transition from running her own business to something that would still keep her occupied and stimulated. As a result, Judy started volunteering at the Eye and Ear hospital, where she was appointed to their consumer advisory committee. From there she has been involved in over three different consumer roles at various health care providers.

Judy reflects when making the transition from full-time work to consumer roles, she was able to focus on her many transferrable skills from previous employment. These skills proved to be invaluable to the role as a consumer representative. Skills such her strong interest in the written word and communication were vital, especially when interacting with patients and their families.

Barry’s journey to becoming a consumer representative started whilst caring for his late wife, who had been ill for a number of years. Barry recalls that they spent a lot of time in and out of hospital. During this time he was never shy about speaking up if aspects of his wife’s care could be improved. Through Barry’s advocacy for his wife’s care, he gained the attention of one of the hospital managers who suggested Barry join the consumer advisory group, which he did. As Barry says, “the manager suggested I join as they are always after people who won’t shut up and have got something to say.” Over the years, Barry has found himself participating in many more consumer advocacy roles.

Why become a consumer representative?

For both Judy and Barry, becoming consumer representatives was one way of continuing to contribute to the community. They are also extremely passionate about what they do, and to improving the health and well-being of the community at large.

Judy feels that being a consumer representative has given her an opportunity to connect with some extremely clever researchers. However she has noticed that some researchers are not “very worldly”. According to Judy, researchers can “live in an elite world with a language of its own, and they can be very focused on their field of expertise. As a result, sometimes they often have difficulty relating how their research potentially benefits the community.”

Judy wants to see consumers involved in each stage of all research projects, from the initial decisions about the field of research, grant submissions, through to completion.

Barry concurs and feels that being a consumer representative has given him an opportunity to be engaged and socially active. Being a member on the MACH Care of the ageing committee also means that he is exposed to the latest research in this field which he thoroughly enjoys. Barry reflects, “for me, it’s that the consumer can have a voice and be part of the research. I hope that by me being involved, the researchers get something out of it and know someone is listening.”

Advice for researchers and professionals working with consumer representatives?

“Listen!” Judy and Barry both emphatically agree on this point! Judy elaborates stating that it’s all about communication and being open to starting a dialogue and exchange information. Barry agrees, “always listen,” he advises. The importance of communication and listening is paramount for consumer engagement and if everybody listens then it allows for good decisions to be made for patients and their families.

What if someone wants to become a consumer representative?

Judy and Barry encourage those who are thinking of becoming a consumer representative to give it a try and go in with an open mind. Judy believes it is important to know your own strengths and how you can contribute. Barry suggests to always speak your mind and that no comment or question is stupid, “Don’t be afraid to speak up, because it is the only way we all learn.” Most major health care organisations have a volunteer or consumer coordinator who can be contacted.

For both Judy and Barry being a consumer representative is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

For more information visit Consumer Health Forum

What our Co-Chairs from the Care of the Ageing Committee have to say about our consumer representatives?

Barry and Judy’s contributions to our Committee are invaluable. They keep us grounded in the lived experience of older people and remind us to communicate our research to a broad public audience. Having them involved in every stage of the research process means that our research topics and approaches are relevant and appropriate for older people. We are very lucky to have two very experienced and articulate people to provide the consumer voice.