Health is the most precious thing we have and we are all interested in staying healthy. We make constant personal efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Nevertheless, no one stays free of health problems. There are a number of minor health problems which are inevitable and have to be accepted as consequences of living. They may be hard to avoid, but can be improved and often relieved by non-prescription medicines, medical devices, food supplements or other self-care measures outside the conventional health sector, with the support of a health care provider where necessary.
What is self-care?
Self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider – World Health Organization (2019).
The self-care continuum includes a wide range of actions and measures: health literacy, good hygiene, healthy lifestyle choices (being physically active and eating healthily, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption) and responsible self-diagnosis, self-treatment, self-monitoring and supplementation. Self-care interventions represent a significant push towards new and greater self-efficacy, autonomy and engagement in health for individuals. Individuals are increasingly active participants in management of their health and wellbeing and have a right to a greater choice of interventions that meets their needs across their lifetime. Self-care interventions are a complementary to conventional health care and forms an important part of the health system.
Benefits of responsible self-diagnosis, self-treatment, self-monitoring and supplementation
The use of medicines available without prescription (OTCs) as well as other self-care products such as food supplements, including minerals & vitamins, and/or self-care medical devices, is an important part of the self-care continuum. It is also in line with the growing desire of everybody to take more responsibility for their own health.
Minor ailments that can be treated with self-care products include: colds and flu, cough, sore throat, allergies, mouth ulcers, incomplete or difficult digestion (including heartburn), infrequent and difficult stools, vomiting, diarrhoea, sunburn, warts, mild to moderate pains such as headaches and muscular pain, mild to moderate skin problems: e.g. cuts, insect bites, eczema, etc.
Normally, one gets all the nutrients needed from a balanced diet. However, supplements can provide with extra nutrients when your diet is lacking or certain health conditions trigger a deficiency (such as cancer, diabetes, or chronic diarrhoea). Individual nutrients are also available as supplements, usually in doses larger than your typical multivitamin. They are used to treat a deficiency, such as an iron or vitamin D deficiency.
When practised correctly and responsibly, self-diagnosis, self-treatment, self-monitoring and supplementation provides a wide range of benefits, not only for individuals, but also for society at large and health systems, including:
- Empowered individuals: Self-care products empower people to take their health and wellbeing into their own hands, giving them the opportunity to improve their quality of life.
- Managing ailments efficiently: Self-care plays a key role in the management of certain conditions (cold, indigestion, sunburn, etc.) and improves symptoms and recovery times. Cold and cough products when used responsibly to manage viral respiratory infections indirectly contribute to reducing consumption of antibiotics that are considered by some to help in case of cold and cough.
- Better well-being, whatever our age: A wide range of health conditions can be self-diagnosed, self-treated, self-monitored and/or resolved by supplementation. Therefore, self-care products are a critical part of well-being at all stages of life, starting with infant colitis to pain management in older age.
- Better availability: The ever-growing range of self-care products provide greater choice in healthcare and wellness. As well it offers opportunity to the pharmacy profession to expand their competence and offer immediate solutions to individuals and communities they serve. Because of a dense network of community pharmacies and their extended operating hours as well as availability of pharmacists’ advice with no prior appointment, self-care products are the first choice in the self-care continuum for many.
- More efficient, less stressful, less time-consuming: Self-care saves individuals time and effort by enabling them to treat or manage number of their health needs conveniently and successfully by themselves or in consultation with a pharmacist or other healthcare professionals. In turn it reduces waiting times at doctors’ as well as unnecessary emergency department visits.
- Lower costs: Self-care products help combat rising healthcare costs for individuals around the world. It is often the most cost-efficient solution for minor ailments, since alternative, seeing a doctor not only carries additional cost, but also requires time off.
- Better return on investment: Investments in self-care lead to demonstrable long-term savings for governments and healthcare systems as well as individual households.
- Better resource allocation: Self-care eases the workload of strained healthcare systems by enabling them to allocate resources more efficiently, thus increasing their capacity to treat the people with long-term and complicated conditions.
Self-care in numbers
Investments in self-care lead to demonstrable long-term savings for governments and healthcare systems as well as individual households.
A recent Italian study showed that making more medicines available without prescription would result in potential savings from 1 to 2.1 billion Euros including medicines expenditure, avoided visits to the doctor and our time spent during the visit!
Potential savings thanks to Rx-to-OTC switches may be allocated to new and cost-effective drugs for severe diseases and/or unmet needs, in a context of scarce resources.
There are an estimated 18 million GP appointments every year in UK for self-treatable conditions. Demand and pressure on healthcare services could be relieved if more people had the appropriate tools and awareness to take care of their own health.
It is estimated that in total over £1.5bn could be saved each year and reinvested into the NHS if more people had the appropriate tools and awareness to take care of their own health.
£200m could be saved each year in UK by reducing unnecessary prescriptions for over-the-counter medicines for self-treatable conditions.
8.5 billion packs of non-prescription medicines and 1.2 billion packs of minerals and vitamins were purchased by Europeans in 2018 with an aim to improve their health and contribute to their wellbeing.
Our goal: Advance responsible self-care
With an ageing population with higher rates of non-communicable diseases and other long-term health conditions, it is vital that self-care along health literacy is embedded as part of a health policy. In turn, empowered and health literate individuals will be able to take their health and wellbeing into their own hands, which as a result will improve their quality of life.
By broadcasting the benefits of self-care products, improving health literacy, promoting industry transparency and supporting the regulated use of health data, we can all help ensure self-care is able to fulfil its increasingly vital role in sustainable healthcare systems.
With help from healthcare professionals, teachers and regulators, the European Self-Care Industry is committed to advance responsible self-care, enabling citizens to take better care of their health needs, and to contribute to the sustainability of European healthcare systems.
AESGP aspires to lead and champion the self-care agenda with a mission to ‘advance responsible self-care enabling citizens to take better care of their health needs and contribute to the sustainability of European health care systems’. Read more on our strategy.
Help us grow self-care!
What is self-care? What is responsible self-care? What are its benefits and how can we promote it? We tried to answer all these questions in just one short video, released on the occasion of International Self-Care Day 2019. You too can help us grow self-care, first of all by taking care of your health, but also by sharing this video around you!