Over-the-counter could be just what the doctor ordered

Persuading patients to use over-the-counter products for minor ailments will make people better faster.

Scott Clark: "During the blockbuster pharma era, OTCs went out of vogue. "
Scott Clark: "During the blockbuster pharma era, OTCs went out of vogue. "

The Treat Yourself Better Without Antibiotics campaign from the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines association, is a sensible idea and comes at a time of growing antibiotic resistance. The initiative aims to discourage people from pestering GPs for antibiotics, which aren’t effective in treating the symptoms of viral infections. The logic goes that for every GP visit that is not ‘wasted’ on transient conditions, we will increase the opportunity to detect and treat more serious disease.  

But what happens to the patient we have just told not to harass their doctor? Simply because someone doesn’t merit a prescription, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be offered relief. That is why this initiative should, in my opinion, go hand-in-hand with expanded access to more and better OTC options. Self-care is often overlooked as the poor cousin of prescription medicines, but these products are a crucial part of the healthcare continuum and should be celebrated for the benefits they offer society.

During the blockbuster pharma era, OTCs went out of vogue. But with pressure on prescription drug budgets, OTCs are likely to continue the trend of outperforming the growth of pharma, according to IMS Health. Consumers taking more control and responsibility for their health is a good thing, and the market is already worth an estimated $143bn (£86bn).

Consumer health is set for a renaissance. Over the coming years, the market will go from boring to booming in terms of innovation and interest. There will be more switches from prescription to OTC medicine in pain relief, overactive bladders, gastro conditions and seasonal allergies, as well as developments in prevention and hygiene. There will also be more innovation around trusted ingredients already on the market.

As comms experts, our skills need to match the trends in the healthcare marketplace. Although OTCs are available without prescription, PR support is not as straightforward as selling a KitKat. These products are regulated, so we need to retain specialist healthcare skills. Effective comms will help bring this about and ensure they are appropriately used by consumers.  

That means that not only do we need to be able to grasp phase III clinical trial results, but also how to interpret consumer data and insights from social ecosystems. Consumer behaviour and psychology, and how products fit into their daily lives, will be key.

To tackle consumer health and OTCs, PR consultancies are gearing up with data analysts and insight strategists. But data crunching can’t always shed light on the human experience. A headache sounds minor to some, but if it keeps a new graduate from performing their best during a first job interview, then it has major implications. The human impact of minor ailments is sometimes not that minor. We can work to define the narrative that helps connect the right consumer with an OTC solution ASAP. That’s the true power of consumer health comms: making people feel better faster.

Scott Clark is group CEO of Tonic Life Communications

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