Robert Buckeldee, Service Model Director, The Nielsen Company, Europe
SUMMARY: No matter where consumers live, healthcare is important. But where they live often determines how minor ailments are treated. While Europeans put their trust in the neighborhood pharmacist, North Americans rely more on the advice of doctors. In countries where healthcare infrastructures and economies are evolving, opportunities exist to lessen the considerable burden consumers currently put on doctors and help governments reduce their healthcare expenditure.
The sore throat and cough that accompany the onset of a cold usually sends the typical American to his local drug store to purchase a preferred over-the-counter remedy, chosen because of past experience with the product. Rarely—if ever—is the pharmacist consulted, and almost never is a doctor called for such a common malady. But in Europe, consumers have been taught that pharmacists are an important source of health care information and they are likely to be consulted almost as frequently as a doctor, according to a new global study by The Nielsen Company.
Surveying more than 27,000 consumers in 54 countries, Nielsen has benchmarked the incidence of 17 common minor ailments—all of which can be treated with non-prescription medicines—as well as how consumers typically deal with them. Globally, respondents suffered from an average of almost four (3.9) such ailments in the last 12 months. The most common ailments: headaches, endured by 44% of respondents, followed by cold (38%) and cough (34%). A hearty 13% suffered from none of the 17 conditions listed.
Latin Americans are most prone to suffering from minor ailments (4.73 out of 17) while consumers in Asia Pacific are least prone (3.48 suffered). On a country basis, the Dutch suffered least from these ailments, with an average of 2.47 followed by the Japanese and the Chinese. At the other end of the spectrum, consumers in South Africa have the highest levels of incidence at 5.47 followed by Philippines and New Zealand.
Consult the Doctor or Pharmacist?
Having established the level of incidence by country for each of the 17 ailments, Nielsen’s study explored whether the consumer would seek advice from either a doctor or a pharmacist in helping them with their ailment. Respondents were presented with four options:
- Every time I suffer
- Only when I experience symptoms I have not had before
- Only when the symptoms are more severe than normal
Consumer responses varied significantly across the ailments, and between doctor and pharmacist. Analysis of those who said they would never seek the advice of a doctor or pharmacist highlights the gap that still exists with consumers with respect to seeing the pharmacist as a point of care, rather than a retailer of products. For all the ailments (except hangover), a higher proportion of consumers said they would never seek advice from a pharmacist relative to the proportion who would never seek advice from a doctor. This gap, however, is generally lower in Europe, where the pharmacist has been promoted as a key part of the primary healthcare system in a number of countries, and generally higher in Latin America where the doctor remains embedded in the mindset of consumers as the place to go for advice.
Across the categories, a high percentage of flu sufferers will always seek advice from doctor and pharmacist, but generally speaking, consumers mostly seek advice for these minor ailments from a doctor and/or a pharmacist only when symptoms are more severe than they would normally experience. This finding indicates that for the vast majority of consumers suffering from these minor ailments, there is a willingness to work through the ailment without professional advice, either through routine self-medication with non-prescription medicines or other traditional remedies, or by letting the body self-correct. This finding further reinforces the need for manufacturers to drive brand equity within the self-medication sector, and build loyalty with their suffering consumers.
A more detailed analysis of two most common ailments shows strong regional differences. The headache ailment is the most commonly suffered globally, and it follows that the analgesics category is the largest in sales globally with over $9.5 billion of sales in 2008, according to OTC industry expert Nicholas Hall & Company. The cough ailment is the third most commonly suffered, but consumers are much more likely to engage with either a doctor or pharmacist for this ailment than with a headache.
On the global level, 34% of headache sufferers will never seek advice from a doctor about the ailment, compared to 44% who will never seek advice from a pharmacist—a 10 point gap in favor of the doctor. Similarly for coughers, there is a 13 point gap in favor of the doctor. When these gaps are viewed regionally, the gap narrows considerably in Europe to only 2% and 4% respectively. And the gap broadens significantly in Latin America to 24% and 26% respectively.
The many campaigns run by European governments and healthcare providers to position the pharmacist as a point of primary care are paying off, and consumers are more engaged with the pharmacist than in other parts of the world.
Interestingly, North America is similar to Latin America in terms of the doctor/pharmacist gap, but this can be attributed to the wide availability of non-prescription medicines that can be purchased without any pharmacist intervention. The role of the pharmacist in relation to minor ailments has been lessened through this process.
Pharmacists in North America tend to be viewed as retailers, while in Europe they are viewed as a go-to for minor ailments. These views are fairly solid in consumers’ mindsets in their respective regions. But the real opportunity lies in Latin America, where evolving healthcare infrastructures and economies provide a chance to educate consumers to use the pharmacist as a point of primary care and advice. This will lessen the considerable burden consumers currently put on doctors in the region for advice about minor ailments and by extension help governments reduce their healthcare expenditure.
Consumers tend to want to treat minor ailments on their own, and the pharmacist can play an important role in helping consumers do that by helping them understand which medication might be best for what ails them. Additionally, manufacturers of OTC products need to understand the dynamics in each region and tailor marketing efforts to fully capitalize on growth opportunities. In the U.S., that may mean marketing direct to consumers; in Europe, marketing towards pharmacists may be more effective.