S3 advertising - a win for all

09 February 2017

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Laws that prohibit consumer advertising of certain over-the-counter medicines are out of step with international practice and deliver no public health benefit, according to
the peak non-prescription medicines body, the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI).

This follows research findings on the potential health benefits of consumer advertisingfora class of non-prescription medicines that are available from pharmacies, but largely invisible to the wider public.

Schedule 3 (S3) medicines are classified as 'Pharmacist Only' which means that they can only be supplied after counseling from a pharmacist. However, unlike other non-prescription medicines, S3 products are not able to be advertised under Therapeutic Goods Regulations, except through an exemption.

S3 medicines are used to treat everyday conditions including, cold sores, conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers, travel sickness, Vitamin D deficiency and nausea and vomiting associated with migraine.

ASMI has proposed an alternative model for S3 medicines advertising, combining consumer information and education, which will be submitted to an upcoming government review of medicines scheduling.  

ASMI commissioned the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to conduct research to determine the impact of the proposed model on the Quality Use of Medicines (QUM), a central plank of the national medicines policy.

Professor Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics and Director of CHERE said there appeared to be no public health benefit from the current restriction on S3 advertising and that the evidence suggested ASMI's alternative model could have a positive impact on the Quality Use of Medicines.

"Unfortunately, there is limited consumer awareness of S3 medicines, so many people don't think to go to a pharmacist for a minor ailment that could be treated fairly easily, without the need for a GP visit.

"Our research showed that the proposed advertising model significantly increased the likelihood of consumers engaging in conversations with pharmacists about their health conditions and treatment options," Professor Viney said.

"Importantly, the pharmacists and pharmacy assistants involved in the study were not influenced by the advertising and regularly chose the most appropriate treatment for the consumer," she said.

The UTS CHERE research involved almost 1300 consumers, 500 pharmacists and 500 pharmacy assistants in a randomised study to assess the impact of a 'mock S3 product TV advertisement'. A 'test and control' environment was used to isolate the impact of advertising on both consumers and pharmacists. 

The 30-second mock advertisement was targeted at cold sore sufferers and contained three key messages - disease state information, the importance of pharmacist advice, and product information and brand awareness.

ASMI Chief Executive Officer Dr Deon Schoombie said the study highlighted the potential health benefits from relaxing advertising restrictions on a group of safe and effective medicines that are available from pharmacies.

"Importantly, the advertisement created more awareness about health conditions and encouraged consumers to open up a conversation with their pharmacist. This has the potential to free up GPs' time for treatment of more serious conditions while reducing costs to the healthcare system.

"The current laws discourage innovation in the medicines sector because they are an obstacle to down-scheduling, or 'switching', of medicines from prescription to non-prescription, and they leave Australia out of step with countries such as New Zealand," he said.

Dr Schoombie said ASMI's proposed advertising model included a clearly defined "non-advertisable" list for products with a history of misuse, abuse or diversion for illegal use.

   See the UTS CHERE report, 'Estimating the impact of schedule 3 consumer advertising'.

   Topline results, summaries and infographics can be found here.

   See the ASMI mock advertisement designed for S3 advertising.

   More about CHERE.