Health is the most precious thing we have. However, there are a number of minor health problems that 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, self-care medical devices, food supplements or other self-care measures outside the conventional health sector, with the support of a healthcare 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. They become increasingly active participants in the management of their health and wellbeing, and have the right to a greater choice of interventions that meets their needs across their lifetime. Self-care interventions are complementary to conventional healthcare and form an important part of the health system.
About self-care products
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.
Usually, a balanced diet provides all needed nutrients. However, when someone’s diet is lacking or certain health conditions trigger a deficiency (such as cancer, diabetes or chronic diarrhoea), supplements can provide the extra nutrients needed. Individual nutrients are also available as supplements, usually in doses larger than typical multivitamin. They are used to treat a deficiency, such as an iron or vitamin D deficiency.
Responsible self-care: a win-win solution
When practised correctly and responsibly, self-care (including self-diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and supplementation) provides a wide range of benefits, not only for individuals, but also for society and health systems:
- Empowered individuals: Self-care products empower people to take their health and well-being into their own hands, giving them the opportunity to improve their quality of life.
- Efficient ailments management: Self-care plays a key role in the management of certain conditions and improves symptoms and recovery times. Cold and cough products, when used responsibly to manage viral respiratory infections, indirectly contribute to reducing the consumption of antibiotics, often mistakenly considered as effective against cold and cough.
- Improved well-being, whatever our age: A wide range of health conditions can be self-diagnosed, treated, monitored and/or resolved by supplementation. 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 provides greater choice in healthcare and wellness. Likewise, it offers the opportunity for the pharmacy profession to expand their competence and offer immediate solutions to the people and communities they serve. Thanks to a dense network of community pharmacies and their extended operating hours, as well as the 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 ‘office as well as unnecessary emergency department visits.
- 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 people with long-term and complicated conditions.
- Lower costs: Self-care products help combat rising healthcare costs for individuals around the world. They are often the most cost-effective solution for minor ailments, since alternatives like seeing a doctor not only mean additional costs, but also require 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.
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 with health literacy are embedded as part of health policy. Empowered and health literate individuals will be able to take their health and wellbeing into their own hands, which in turns 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.Our strategy