World healthcare body urges governments to evaluate economic impact of greater access to medicines

10 October 2017

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Global healthcare experts meeting at the World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) General Assembly in Sydney this month will issue a call to action to ensure the necessary conditions to promote better access to more medicines to encourage a wider practice of self care. While consumers value the convenience of nonprescription medicines, an international line-up of speakers presenting in the session,The Value of Self-Carewill argue that governments are underestimating the contribution this category makes to better health outcomes, the economic sustainability of health systems and more efficient utilization of healthcare resources.

The WSMI General Assembly, held October 18-19 at the Sydney International Convention Centre, will feature the world-first presentation of new Australian research from Macquarie University that demonstrates why Australia requires a health-economic dimension to  determine what medicines consumers can access and how they can access them. Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy researcher Dr Bonny Parkinson will be joined by several international leaders in healthcare in arguing the economic case for processes that will expedite the evolution of medicines from prescription-only access to over-the-counter access.

In Australia, Dr Parkinson's research demonstrates that an economic evaluation approach could be applied to enhance the decision-making process on how consumers access medicines.

"Economic evaluations consider the impact on healthcare resource use and costs, in addition to the impact on health outcomes," Dr Parkinson says.

"Down-scheduling of medicines can improve patient health outcomes by reducing barriers to treatment, reducing the time to symptom relief, and improving treatment rates and adherence. Consequently, the onset of related diseases may be prevented, or disease progression may be delayed or reduced."

Dr Parker also points out how greater access to medicines can enable valuable healthcare resources to be used by the patients who need them most.

"Allowing a medicine to be available over-the-counter is likely to reduce GP attendances just to obtain prescriptions, but improved health outcomes will also lead to less demand for other forms of healthcare, such as diagnostic tests and hospitalisations."  "

While consumers value the convenience of nonprescription medicines, the potential benefits extend to improving consumer health and increasing the efficiency of healthcare delivery," says Dr Eric Brass, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of California. Prof. Brass' presentation will focus on the success of the 'switch' of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) from prescription-only to over-the-counter access in the USA. In the decade prior to the introduction of the first nonprescription PPIs in 2003, there was a steady increase in physician visits for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), but this trend in physician visits abruptly plateaued from 2004-2012. It is estimated that if the pre-2004 trend had continued, there would have been an additional 5.2 million primary care visits for GERD in 2012.

Around the world, research has placed a dollar value on the contribution consumer spending on nonprescription medicines makes towards easing pressure on national healthcare systems. In 2017, Mexico joined nations such as Canada, the US and Australia who have conducted such research. Key findings:

  • Common, non-serious health conditions treated in the public healthcare system cost as much as US$745 million, but the same conditions could be treated using OTC products at a cost of $120 p.a.
  • Every $1 spent on OTC medicines across just five categories saved the Mexican public healthcare sector $6. This reflects similar findings in Australia (every $1 consumers spend on OTC medicines saves the healthcare system $4) 1, the USA (every $1 spent saves $6-7),2 and Canada, where research showed that $1 billion could be freed up in the Canadian healthcare system and broader economy by switching just three categories of medication from prescription to OTC. 3
  • OTC products help maintain a healthy workforce, with $93 million in potential productivity benefits.

"Doctor time is money," says Josh Noone from Precision Health Economics (USA). Mr Noone will argue that another important key component to the health economic contribution of non-prescription medicines around the world is the argue that the greater self-management of health conditions enabled by increased access to medicines delivers productivity gains for doctors, which results in time that can be reallocated to the management of more severe cases where it is needed.  

The Value of Self Care - infographic

  1. Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy:The Value of OTC Medicines in Australia, March 2014.
  2. Booz & Co in conjunction with Consumer Healthcare Products Association:The Value of OTC Medicine to the United States, January 2012
  3. Gagnon-Arpin, Isabelle.Value of Consumer Health Products: The Impact of Switching Prescription Medications to Over-the-Counter. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2017.