Poll: Patients rely on others to help with OTC choices

Nexium OTC
Nexium OTC

Patients and primary care physicians overwhelming agree that over-the-counter medications are important assets for patients to manage their health, but 38% of patients said they lack the confidence to pick the right OTC product without help, according to a new report.

About half of the patients surveyed said they have asked health professionals for help picking an OTC product and 59% of patients have used over-the-counter drugs to handle acute health conditions.

The poll was conducted on behalf of Pfizer and the National Council on Patient Information and Education. It surveyed 2,024 patients and 516 PCPs about “self-care,” which was described as activities including seeking out a diagnosis, identifying treatments, managing diet and exercise, utilizing preventative care and making healthcare decisions.

Pfizer's portfolio includes OTC heartburn medicine Nexium 24HR, pain medication Advil and multivitamin Centrum. The drugmaker has said it plans to pursue an OTC version of Lipitor, once the world's best-selling drug. During its most recent earnings call, Pfizer executives said the actual-use trial for OTC Lipitor was completed in December and results from the trial are expected to be released in the second quarter of this year.

Pfizer said in a statement that the goal was to “examine the perceptions, behaviors and trends among American adults and primary care physicians” and that the survey is part of a larger effort to help individuals “take control of their health.”

The poll found that 80% of patients “believe they are expected to be active in managing their health more than ever before,” in part due to shifting health-insurance dynamics in which co-pays, co-insurance and high-deductible health plans force patients into thinking about costs.

Only 5% of participants did not agree that self-care means taking personal responsibility for their health, and 89% said they know how to find the medical information they need. This independence does not mean fewer consults with physicians—83% said they consider seeking a doctor's advice as self-care.

Pfizer found that the extent of OTC use depends on which of the eight self-care personas patients fell into. One group, called “tech-savvy independents,” who accounted for 13% of patients, tend to self-medicate. Although they generally avoid the doctor, they tend to rely on PCPs for OTC advice.

“Tech-savvy parents,” who made up 9% of polled patients, rely on OTC medications for themselves because of time constraints. They generally have good health, except for some chronic care matters they handle with specialists. Financial constraints keep “doctor-less self-reliants”—who made up 11% of participants—out of the waiting room. These patients rely on OTCs and use friends and family for health information.

“Health ambivalents” and “health rejecters,” who made up 26% and 3% of patients, respectively, were not strongly attached to self-care. Results showed that health ambivalents were generally healthy, have poor health habits and see physicians for an annual checkup, whereas rejectors do not have great health but are not dealing with major health issues. Rejecters, as expected, are “not engaged with self-care at all.”