“I think I’ve caught the flu. My bones ache and I’m starting to get a temperature.”
“Well, head down to the pharmacy, take something and go to bed.”
Many of us will be familiar with this kind of conversation. After all, pharmacies are an important part of our health system and are often the first place we go when we feel unwell.
It is no coincidence that, on average, a third of the products dispensed in the pharmacy are over-the-counter products, which are included under the ‘self-care’ concept. These products can help us in various ways: they prevent visits to the doctor for mild illnesses and symptoms; they let us complement therapies by treating associated symptoms; and, of course, many of them, such as cosmetics and sports supplements, are associated with the ‘because I'm worth it’ impulse.
And how do you innovate with over-the-counter medicines? After all, one of the requirements is that their active ingredients have a well-documented history of use. As such, we cannot innovate with new molecules. But what we can do is document and argue for a change in the regulatory status of a specific active ingredient, so that it is considered an over-the-counter medicine. This switch allows greater innovation. The change alone, though, is not enough; we need to communicate with consumers; they now make the decisions, and they need to remember the brand.
There is a paradigm shift between prescription products, where the key is to get the doctor to endorse the active ingredient, and over-the-counter products, where the consumers make the purchase decision and develop brand loyalty. As such, a number of factors become more important: the format, such as capsules, pills, sachets, oral solutions and orodispersible sachets without water; the taste and the availability of different flavours; the maximum price the customer is willing to pay; and even such aspects from other sectors as ‘sugar-free’, ‘no-preservatives’, ‘no-colourings’ and ‘alcohol-free’. It is also possible to innovate by taking advantage of consumer trends, like the popularity of ‘natural’ products; hence the appearance of over-the-counter traditional herbal medicines.
So, when we innovate, the needs of the patient-consumer must be at the heart of our every decision.