Advertising can drive a greater role for pharmacists in consumer health

09 March 2017

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ASMI Chair Lindsay Forrest has outlined how pharmacists can play a larger role in Australian healthcare, which will provide benefits for consumers, reduce healthcare costs to government and help drive investment and innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Speaking today at the Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference, Mr Forrest outlined the potential positive impact of a model for direct-to-consumer advertising for Schedule 3 (S3 or 'Pharmacist Only') medicines that ASMI has advocated and trialled through a discrete choice experiment conducted by the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE) at the University of Technology Sydney.

The Australian Self Medication Industry Association (ASMI) represents sponsors of non-prescription medicines, which includes over-the-counter (OTC) and complementary medicines. ASMI members make up 80% of the $5bn+ non-prescription market.

Mr Forrest explained how an alternative set of controls to the current restrictions on S3 medicine advertising has the potential to reignite both the S3 category and 'switch' - the process of downscheduling prescription medicines to S3 (available over-the-counter through consultation with a pharmacist).

"So many more categories can be OTC," Mr Forrest said. "We just need to look across the Tasman to see what other exciting opportunities exist as potential OTC categories - erectile dysfunction medicines  and the contraceptive pill, just to name a couple."

The ASMI proposal first involves the national distribution  of clinical protocols and product information prior to any particular S3 product advertising to consumers. The model then calls for a mandatory 'infomercial-style' advertising format that gives equal prominence to:

  1. Disease state awareness,
  2. Branded product information
  3. The pharmacist's role in determining whether the advertised therapy right for the consumer.

This would be the 'default' position for S3 products, with the exception of those products for which it would not be in the public interest to advertise (e.g. products which can be abused, misused, etc.).

The CHERE experiment tested the influence of a mock TV advertisement for a fictitious product in an existing S3 category - an antiviral cold sore treatment.  The experiment was conducted with 1,295 consumers (50% sufferers & 50% non-sufferers), 501 pharmacists and 500 pharmacy assistants (PAs).

The results made it clear that this advertising format influenced consumers' health-seeking behaviour and did much more than just "sell brands". Consumers who saw the advertisement were more likely to visit a pharmacist than a GP, not just for cold sore treatment, but also for other minor health conditions. S3 advertising drove more 'health conversations' between consumers and pharmacists, which has the potential to slash government spending on healthcare (i.e. Medicare, PBS, hospital visits).

Another key finding was that pharmacists and PAs were not influenced by the advertisement.

"The only significant driver to recommendation was whether the therapy was appropriate for the consumer's symptoms/condition… pharmacists were more scrutinizing of appropriateness of therapy for the advertising test group than the non-advertising control group," Mr Forrest said.

"The vast majority of pharmacists were also comfortable referring up (to a GP) or denying consumer requests if the medicine was not appropriate."

The experiment also addressed concerns that advertising would drive inappropriate demand.

"The evidence showed that consumers are very comfortable with pharmacists determining whether advertised S3 product is right for them," Mr Forrest said.

Mr Forrest also noted that the proposed S3 advertising model encourages industry to reinvest back into S3 category (often considered a 'dead zone' because of the lack of options to increase consumer awareness of products) and provides motivation to 'switch' prescription medicines to OTC. Both these measures will drive further 'front of shop' growth for pharmacies.

"The proposed S3 advertising model is a win on all fronts with better QUM (quality use of medicines) outcomes," Mr Forrest said. "The next step for us is to feed these findings into the Government's medicines scheduling framework review, which is slated for this month."

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis, immediately pledged the Guild's support for the proposed S3 advertising model in the upcoming scheduling review.


See the full presentation with figures and infographics from the CHERE S3 advertising experiment.