World health care body reports billions can be saved with more non-prescriptions medicines

20 October 2017

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The World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) has used its General Assembly in Sydney this week to launch a new report that puts a dollar value on the potential savings available to nations around the world if some prescription medicines suitable for use in self care were made available over-the-counter (OTC).

The report, conducted by Precision Health Economics, demonstrates just some of the impacts that self care is producing, or has the potential to produce around the world. The report quotes figures for Australia that show that a saving of over A$1 billion could be made to the national economy if just a few selected prescription medicines were reclassified to non-prescription status.

The report reviews existing evidence to support the use of self-medication, focussing on improved patient access to treatments, and the cost-related impacts of self care in terms of healthcare resource use, medication costs and employee productivity.

Specific therapy areas were targeted to best demonstrate the potential savings to be had by giving consumers better access to medicines to treat common health conditions or symptoms. These conditions included:

  • allergic rhinitis and chronic urticarial
  • heartburn / non-ulcer dyspepsia
  • symptom management of common cold
  • cardiovascular disease

The first clear finding from the published evidence reviewed in the report is that when a class of medicines becomes available without a prescription, there is a significant reduction in the number of doctor visits, as a large proportion of patients are seeking medical care for conditions that are suitable for self care.

This claim was supported by Dr Eric P. Brass, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, who also presented at the WSMI General Assembly. Dr Brass used the example of Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) medicines in the USA to demonstrate the potential benefit of non-prescription medicine availability.

"Before the availability of certain non-prescription drugs for gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn), physician visits were increasing," Dr Brass said. "After the introduction of non-prescription PPIs, the physician visits for GERD were halted and there was a stable visit rate.

"No evidence was found for increased visits or worsened outcomes for gastrointestinal conditions which might be masked by PPI treatment."

The report notes that commonly used non-prescription medicines that have been on the market for many years or even decades have not been examined for their economic value, and more evidence is clearly needed to support the value of self care. However, this review goes some way to demonstrate that improving access to medicines that people can use to manage their own health can deliver significant economic benefits to healthcare systems worldwide.

The full report is available for to read here

The value of self-medication: summary of existing evidence - Noone, J. & Blanchette, C.M., Precision Health Economics.

WSMI Self Care infographic