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Delivering accessible healthcare

The future of consumer health, community pharmacists and collaboration

Merck doctor and child

The OTC sector has seen significant change in recent years, including the switching of certain drugs from the prescription medicine category to a direct-to-consumer environment either as pharmacy or as retail products. The heyday of such switches may have passed, but more products could enter the category, as companies and governments look to leverage consumer health to improve wellbeing.

It's not hard to see why OTC remains an attractive option. If a product can be easily purchased by consumers in the accessible setting of a community pharmacy, it will more easily act as a powerful lever for improving people's wellbeing. OTC products can also drive healthcare system efficiency, stimulating greater prevention of illness and a more open healthcare market, while helping achieve the reality of a sustainable healthcare system based on the principles of self-diagnosis, self-care and self-pay.

There is evidence to suggest the 'pipeline' of prescription products that could enter the market is beginning to dry up. As pharmaceutical companies increasingly focus on specialty care, products that can meet a mass-market medical need are becoming scarce. In addition, companies and healthcare providers are now more astute about targeting specific demographics and issues in particular countries. A 'one size fits all' approach to product development and roll outs is no longer effective – acting locally is increasingly important for meeting demand.

Despite this, OTC will undoubtedly continue to play a major role in helping governments meet the increasing costs of health, which reach 15% of GDP in some countries. People are living longer and suffering from more long-term conditions linked to obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. Examples of how OTC can help tackle these pressures include the greater availability of statins in some countries and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases that do not require a prescription. Regulatory nervousness is applying somewhat of a brake on such developments but it is a trend that is nonetheless set to continue.

Community pharmacists are a key link for patients and incentives are focusing more on the services they can provide alongside dispensing medicines. Governments and OTC companies share an interest in maintaining the financial viability of independents, alongside multiples and big pharmacy chains, in acting locally and delivering the services that people need and providing a range of products for consumers to choose from.

The future is likely to be defined by increasing collaboration between different providers and suppliers of medical products and services, as efficiencies must be found to meet the costs of health and wellbeing. OTC is ideally placed to deliver these gains through the provision of affordable, trusted and accessible wellbeing products.

This article first appeared in Evolution or Revolution? by Merck Consumer Health 

Article by
Jo Pisani

Partner, Pharmaceuticals & Lifesciences Practice, PwC

19th May 2015

From: Sales, Healthcare



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