New self-care models needed to help consumers help themselves to health

11 August 2017

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Ageing populations, rising healthcare expenditure and lifestyle diseases have combined to create a pressing need for new models and mechanisms that will encourage and enable consumers to better self-manage their health - yet Australia has no formal policy of self-care. This will be a key theme at the World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) conference in Sydney on October 18-19.

"In an era of tight budgets and doctor shortfalls, self-care is an increasingly important area of healthcare that delivers convenience, affordability and empowerment," says Scott Melville, CEO of the Consumer Health Products Association (USA). Mr Melville will lead a session of presentations and a panel discussion that provide insight into promising new models of healthcare that could facilitate safe and appropriate self-care options, including actions that government and industry can take to promote the appropriate use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. 

"There's no single model of self-care that works for all, but there are clear examples of innovation that can promote the appropriate use of OTC medicines," Mr Melville says.

One such international example is the introduction of a tax deduction scheme for more than 1600 OTC medicines in Japan, which began in January this year. Japan has become a "super-ageing society at the fastest pace in the world," according to Yoshihiro Miwa, Chair of the Japan Federation of Self-Medication Industry, who will presentJapan'sModel of Self-Care for Extending "Healthy Life Expectancy". Another key challenge for Japan is increasing consumers' ability to maintain their own health with sufficient health literacy after decades of low out-of-pocket expenses for GP visits and other medical services. Both these issues are also cause for concern in Australia, where there is no formal policy of self-care. 

"Self-care policy should be integrated into the National Health policy," says Charlie Benrimoj, a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Head of the Graduate School of Health, University of Technology, Sydney.

"The evidence suggests that if consumers are involved in their decisions about their health, health outcomes are improved. The policy should be led by governments with consultation of all stakeholders including consumers, medical practitioners, pharmacists, nurses and other health care professionals," says Prof. Benrimoj, who will address the conference on minor ailment schemes in pharmacy around the world.  

Prof. Benrimoj supports mechanisms that allow consumers to make appropriate decisions about minor ailments and their management through the assistance of medical practitioners and pharmacists - a process he believes will be cost-effective.

"An example might be that a consumer who goes to a pharmacist with symptoms like a headache or stomach pain and is not sure of the severity and/or cause," Prof. Benrimoj says. "The pharmacist may be able to assist the consumer in the decision-making process and has the option of offering them an OTC product, referring them to the doctor or giving the consumer some lifestyle advice or combinations of the latter.

"In the case of patients with chronic conditions (e.g. diabetes), if the patient is educated and willing to manage their disease, say, by monitoring, leads to appropriate disease management that may prevent long-term complications," Prof. Benrimoj says.

A change in restrictions to the advertising of pharmacist only (Schedule 3 or S3) medicines in Australia may also be a key driver in how consumers manage minor ailments and increase their understanding of pharmacists as healthcare professionals.

Pharmacist only medicines can only be supplied after advice from a pharmacist. However, unlike other non-prescription medicines, the vast majority of these products are not allowed to be advertised.

Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics and Director of the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation at the University of Technology Sydney, said the restrictions on advertising S3 medicines created a void in the healthcare landscape.

"Without S3 advertising, consumers can fall into a 'gap'," Prof. Viney says. "For example, there are a lot of people who are familiar with cold sores and have been treating them with cold sore creams from a pharmacy. Many of them would never go to a GP for cold sore treatment, but they would also then never become aware that a pharmacist can supply an S3 antiviral tablet that might be a quicker and more effective treatment for them unless they get told about it somehow. In many cases, even regular cold sore sufferers won't learn about this treatment from their doctor until the condition becomes extreme."

Prof. Viney will present research at the WSMI conference that examined the impact of a mock TV advertisement for an S3 product on the behaviour of both consumers and pharmacy staff. The advertisement followed a strict format advocated by ASMI, with the advertisement containing three key messages: information about the disease or condition, the requirement for a mandatory consultation with a pharmacist, and product information/brand awareness.

"The research showed that advertising could create a greater awareness of the range of treatment options available and of pharmacists as a potential source for treatment," says Prof. Viney.

-ENDS-

Scott Melville, Prof. Charlie Benrimoj, Yoshihiro Miwa and Prof. Rosalie Viney will all present in the session New Self Care Modelsat the World Self Medication Industry Conference 2017, October 18-19 at the International Convention Centre, Sydney.                                                                                                                                               

In just a day and a half, delegates will benefit enormously from the insights gained from 28 presentations and five panels featuring 31 world-leading healthcare experts. The 2017 WSMI General Assembly is the must-see event for all those associated with consumer healthcare.