International Self Care Day – consumer empowerment drives the ‘new approach’ to health

24 July 2017

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Consumer trends are driving a "new approach to health" where consumers take a more active role in the management of their health. The challenges to meet this demand for greater consumer empowerment will require a better use of digital technology for health, easier access to more medicines, and changes in the way medicines are advertised, according to international experts who will speak at the World Self Medication Industry conference in Sydney on October 18-19.

This news comes as we mark International Self Care Day, the start of a week where we celebrate the 24 hours-a-day/7 days-a-week benefits people enjoy from taking control of their own health through self care.

"In the new approach to health, consumers drive health - not health drives consumers," says Monica Feldman, consumer health strategist and Group Director of Client Services for the Nicholas Hall Group of Companies.

"In the past, people would feel sick and then do something about their health, mostly by reaching out to the general practitioner of pharmacist for advice or treatment. This was the passive way," add Ms Feldman, who will presentThe Impact of Digital Self Care in the Futureat the WSMI conference.

"At present, the traditional approach to health based on treatment is shifting to prevention. This is the active way. More than ever, consumers are seeking ways to stay as healthy as possible."

One of the driving factors for people to take greater ownership of their health is that we are living longer. However, while the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the average life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 71.4 years, the healthy life expectancy (HALE) at birth was 63.1 years. This means that on average people have 8.3 sick years to live.  

"More consumers are seeking options to increase their healthspan as much as possible in order to help them reduce the emotional, physiological and financial burden of sick years, while increasing their quality of life, says Ms Feldman. "Consumers can now easily find health information, reach out to their general practitioner and/or pharmacist, and most importantly, have access to affordable over the counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and supplements to help them stay healthy."

The advent of health apps, the digitalization of health records, and personal health monitors from wearables is also transforming the manner how consumers understand, track, and monitor their health day to day. The challenge now is how to link and all these devices, apps and delivery of care in just one place, integrating all this virtual care in an efficient and practical way.

"Mhealth (health supported by mobile devices) and telehealth have already become an essential part of life for millions of consumers living in remote areas with no access to a pharmacy or a clinic. For this reason, smartphones are becoming an extension of health and self-care," Ms Feldman says.

However, change is required in order for consumers to have improved access to more medicines and a better understanding of how to use medicines to self manage or prevent health conditions.

"Healthcare professionals (doctors, pharmacists) will continue to have an important role in helping to ensure responsible and appropriate self-care supporting consumers with relevant advice and encouraging self-care where appropriate," says Andy Tisman, Global Senior Principal of Consumer Health at Quintiles/IMS.

"There will be an expansion of the concept of 'self-medication' beyond the simple treatment of minor symptoms to a broader model of self-care and health promotion," says Mr Tisman, who will present to the  WSMI conference on trends and predictions in consumer healthcare.

Mr Tisman sees a future of innovation in product development, which in some cases will include switching products from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC) to open up new categories for self-medication, e.g. for "more complex and chronic conditions".

Consumer empowerment also involves strengthening consumers' confidence and capabilities, according to Dr Isabell Koinig, an international authority in consumers' attitudes towards pharmaceutical advertising.

"Patients are increasingly becoming 'prosumers'… active consumers, who demand a stronger say and wish to be integrated in their health-related decisions. In this context, advertisements play a critical role, as they have the potential to strengthen consumers' competencies and can help them make better-qualified decisions," Ms Koinig says.

"Designing a comprehensible and credible advertisement can increase message empowerment and thus consumers' confidence in product judgements. This in turn also positively influences self-medication and health empowerment. Special emphasis should therefore be placed on the credibility and comprehensibility of OTC advertisements in order to increase their effectiveness and empowering effects."

Monica Feldman, Andy Tisman and Dr Isabell Koinig will all present in the session Consumer Self Care Trends & Insights at the World Self Medication Industry Conference 2017, October 18-19 at the International Convention Centre, Sydney.