Total Health USA 2022

Oct 4, 2022 - Oct 5, 2022,

Unites healthcare leadership to challenge what’s possible, transform patient experience and drive human health outcomes, featuring the most renowned healthcare leaders such as Dr Anthony Fauci, Director NIAID, Dr Francis Collins, Director, NiH and Dr Vivek Murthy, United States Surgeon General

Helping patients help themselves

Self care offers a new way for health care companies to serve patients better globally and industry collaboration will drive faster progress

It’s easy to imagine a future in which we take care of certain aspects of our health independent of healthcare providers. 

Limitless access to information, wearables and their attendant digital tools are part of the solution, but so is broader over-the-counter (OTC) access to safe and effective medicines.

There’s an opportunity here for health care companies to put patients even more at the centre of care and to help them achieve better outcomes.

Self care also has enormous scope to lower the pressures and negative impacts on health systems globally, particularly for non-chronic and non-serious health conditions but also as part of a care package that can prevent more serious outcomes such as emergency room visits. 

“Self care should be the future of health,” says Abbie Lennox, Global Chief Regulatory, Medical, Safety & Compliance Officer for Bayer. “It’s about prevention as well as treatment. It encompasses nutritional products and treatment, for example symptom treatment and allergy management to make sure allergic symptoms don’t develop into something more serious requiring a healthcare visit.”

The opportunity is global in scope, with the potential to serve the most economically disadvantaged, such as the 400 million people worldwide who lack access to the most essential health services, as well as the rich nations. 

Even in developed economies it has taken on a new relevance, says Lennox. “The pandemic has increased the focus on self care as an important way to relieve pressure on health systems.”

And the drivers of demand here are only expected to grow. By 2035, there will be an estimated shortage of nearly 13 million healthcare workers.

Enabling self care

So how ready are health systems around the world to help patients in this regard? An assessment by the Global Self-Care Federation paints a mixed picture. The Self Care Readiness Index (SCRI) ( is a first-of-its-kind research and policy initiative that explores critical enablers of self-care across various health systems around the world. It aims to assess how ready they are for self care and to help them build on their existing capabilities.

It’s a useful starting point for industry, governments, healthcare providers (HCPs) and health systems interested in helping patients improve their self-care capabilities.

There’s lots of scope to innovate, for example by helping HCPs work with patients to take greater charge of their health as well as to explore new options in OTC options.

But there are challenges in advancing the self care agenda. Defining self care and ensuring it is given appropriate attention is one, says Lennox. “There is a misconception that pharma is science and that self care is fluff and smoke and mirrors.”

Another challenge is that approaches to self care around the world differ, as do its definitions, which makes defining progress and success sometimes difficult. A further hurdle is the challenges consumers face in conducting self care online in the face of an array of conflicting messages, a surfeit of information and the risk of misinformation.

But the biggest single challenge is ensuring that consumers can obtain products that can make the difference, says Lennox. “Our biggest challenges as an industry are around access - making products available, accessible, at the right price at the right stores.”

In many cases this means convincing regulators of the benefits of making certain medicines OTC rather than HCP-prescribed. Bayer, for example, has been working with regulators in certain countries to make the case for antihistamine loratidine being available OTC, the product has been OTC in Europe and USA for many years, says Lennox.

“It’s a really important part of our role helping ensure that products that are safe and super effective can get it into hands of consumers who may not be able to get to HCPs or who may need to obtain them through a specialist at some expense. We need to get credible products from behind counter into the hands of the people that need it.”

A regulatory vacuum

In other cases, improving people’s self-care capabilities means trying to secure the regulatory imprimatur for categories such as supplements. There are powerful potential benefits here, says Lennox, citing Elevit, Bayer’s mum and baby vitamin and mineral supplement brand, which offers a health benefit to babies’ early life and a huge positive knock-on impact for their childhood and reducing their future claims on health systems.

The problem in the case of non-OTC medicines and supplements is that regulatory systems, never built for a self-care paradigm, are slowing progress. This is either because they treat established, well-known and understood products entering a new market as if they were new pharmaceutical products, or because they neglect to engage with important self-care categories such as nutritional supplements. The resulting regulatory vacuum makes it hard for consumers to judge the credibility of claims about supplements that may or may not have scientific rigour behind them.

What can the industry do? Where companies can help explain the benefits of certain products, it should, says Lennox. “There’s a huge piece of work there to do across the industry to make advice available and to make things clear even to consumers that may be health illiterate. But of course this is not possible in some markets where we can’t talk to consumers and we are not allowed to position products.”

The industry could also come together to shape some much-needed core principles of self-care, she adds. And there is also an opportunity to work out how to address the very different requirements and conditions in developing economies.

“Think about people in rural areas in these countries and their specific health needs,” says Lennox. “They may not have much disposable income but they deserve the same quality and efficacy.”

This is where there is room for companies to innovate on things such as pack sizes, or specific formulations on products to make them as simple as possible while still as effective.

In the more developed, higher-per capita income economies with new diagnostics, devices, drugs and digital innovations, a new approach to self care could transform how people interact with the health sector. 

Advanced wearables, new digital add-ons and digital therapeutics can help move the world closer to the oft-promised, but so far seldom-experienced reality of personalised medicine with much more consumer engagement in diagnostics and symptom tracking. “How do we use that marriage of digital and product to truly transform health? There’s opportunity in putting more into the hands of the consumer from a digital and product perspective,” says Lennox.

Precision health
Digital tools in particular create the opportunity to tune self care far more precisely for the individual, gathering real time health metrics from wearables, blood samples or DNA. A symptom tracker could help build an individual’s understanding of specific allergic triggers for example, heading off or delaying disease progression, says Lennox. “Digital and the product can come together in a more powerful way.”

By identifying specific needs in certain geographies or certain people with particular genetic dispositions, it’s possible to tailor self care to move the dial on prevention and early treatment.
“It enables you to make decisions around products, symptoms and treatments across  demographics and geographies and it really puts power into the hands of patients and consumers,” says Lennox.

It’s clear that there is much to be gained in a world where every person has accessible tools to take charge of their health, to head off the start, or at least the progression, of disease and to keep the pressure off stretched healthcare systems. All players involved only need to grasp the opportunity.

Total Health USA 2022

Oct 4, 2022 - Oct 5, 2022,

Unites healthcare leadership to challenge what’s possible, transform patient experience and drive human health outcomes, featuring the most renowned healthcare leaders such as Dr Anthony Fauci, Director NIAID, Dr Francis Collins, Director, NiH and Dr Vivek Murthy, United States Surgeon General