Consumer Survey on Self-Medication

Americans Take Healthcare into Their Own Hands
Consumers Increasingly Comfortable with Self-Medication


Americans rely more on themselves than on physicians when feeling under the weather, according to a new survey released today. Following an emerging trend toward self-reliance, Americans say they are increasingly comfortable managing their own healthcare needs.

The Roper Starch survey reveals that Americans feel empowered to address common medical problems, and are generally pleased with the choices they make. Among the findings:

  • 59 percent of Americans 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 (62 percent) say they would like to do more of this in the future.
  • An overwhelming majority - 96 percent - say they are generally confident about the healthcare decisions they make for themselves.

"Self reliance is a dominant theme of American lifestyles this millennium, especially in healthcare," said Linda A. Suydam, D.P.A., president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. "While there is no substitute for a physician, Americans are taking control of minor medical problems with safe, reliable over-the-counter medications."

In fact, Americans say they are more likely to take an over-the-counter medication to treat common ailments (77 percent) rather than wait to see if the problems go away on their own (69 percent). Nearly 80 percent of Americans report using an over-the-counter medication in the past year to treat at least one of the ailments they suffer from - almost twice the number that either consulted a physician or took a prescription medication.

While relying heavily on over-the-counter medications, consumers understand that these products must be used properly. An overwhelming majority say they take the necessary precautions, such as reading directions before using a product for the first time (95 percent), examining labels to help choose medications (89 percent) and reviewing possible side effects and interactions (91 percent).

To ensure that consumers continue to use products safely, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association recommends the following four-point plan for using over-the-counter medications:

  1. Always read product labels.
  2. If you have questions, talk to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  3. Never misuse over-the-counter medications by taking them longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. Symptoms that persist are a clear signal it is time to see a doctor.
  4. Stop use and ask a doctor if you have a reaction to a medication.

More than 600 products are now available over the counter because the Food and Drug Administration has determined that consumers can use them safely and effectively without requiring a doctor's prescription. In recent years, products to treat baldness, yeast infections and migraine - once available only with a doctor's prescription - have become available over the counter.

"Consumers understand when to go to their doctor and when to rely on themselves," Suydam said. "And overwhelmingly, Americans support switching more prescription medications to over-the-counter status. It affords them a level of self-reliance that they are enjoying in so many other areas of their lives."

The survey showed that Americans rely heavily on friends, family and the Internet for basic health information. When it comes to minor health issues, 27 percent consult family and friends as their top source of information, followed by physicians (20 percent). Although a much newer resource, 7 percent rely on the Internet when it comes to minor health issues. For serious health concerns nothing replaces a physician, though. Younger people are much more likely than their elders to rely on friends and family for advice on how to deal with every day health problems.

Americans also rely on nutritional supplements to maintain good health. The survey showed that the majority of the public (57 percent) says they are either actively using dietary supplements or researching information about them. More than eight in 10 Americans who take dietary supplements say they are satisfied with the results. Mature Americans and women are more likely to be currently familiar with alternative medicines, and African Americans and Hispanic Americans show the highest level of interest in becoming more familiar with alternative medicines in the future.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the trade association representing U.S. manufacturers and distributors of nonprescription, over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplement products. The findings are based on 1,505 interviews conducted via telephone by Roper Starch Worldwide from January 8-24, 2001. The results of the survey are projectable to the entire U.S. population with a margin of error of +/-2.6 percent. Hispanic Americans and African Americans were oversampled in the research to insure that findings for these groups are projectable.

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