|Self-medication is the treatment of common health problems with medicines especially designed and labeled for use without medical supervision and approved as safe and effective for such use.
Medicines for self-medication are often called 'nonprescription' or 'over the counter' (OTC) and are available without a doctor's prescription through pharmacies. In some countries OTC products are also available in supermarkets and other outlets. Medicines that require a doctor's prescription are called prescription products (Rx products).
The Basis for Self-Medication
Everyday, everywhere, consumers reach for self-care products to help them through their common health problems. They do so because it may be easier for them, it may be more cost or time efficient, they may not feel their situation merits making an appointment with a healthcare professional, or they may have few or no other options. The challenge and opportunity for governments, healthcare professionals, and providers of self-medication products, then, is to have a responsible framework in place for self-medication.
There is evidence that consumers can and do practice self-medication responsibly. There is also support showing consumers recognize and respect nonprescription medicines. As a whole, they use them appropriately, carefully, and safely; and they read nonprescription drug labeling.
Consumer practice studies in many countries - in Asia, Europe, and the Americas - document this fact. While there are some variations in the incidence of studied health conditions and responses to them, people around the world generally respond to their everyday health problems in much the same way. They let the condition run its course roughly half the time, but turn to nonprescription products about a quarter of the time.
Studies show people are typically cautious and careful when they do turn to nonprescription medicines. They read labels, and they generally take products for less than the maximum period of time indicated on the label.
We also know consumers are taking a more active role in their healthcare, including through self-medication. For example, 59 percent of Americans polled say they are more likely to treat their own health condition now than they were a year ago. 73 percent would rather treat themselves at home than see a doctor, and six in 10 say they would like to do more of this in the future.
In parallel to consumer interest is the health information explosion, made possible by technological advances that improve access to information that is more relevant and more useful to the end user. Consumers now have more tools to take an active role in their health care, and they are using them. One research firm estimated 65 percent of people who visited the Internet in a 12-month period went to health-related sites.
Finally, aging populations, increased interest and emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, and consumer empowerment themes are all trends prevalent in many societies. Self-medication fits into these trends as well.