Cold season gives pharmacists an opportunity to correct misconceptions patients have about the common cold.
Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
The upcoming cold season provides pharmacists with many opportunities to educate their patients. Nine of 10 pharmacists agree that patients harbor misconceptions about managing their colds, according to a recent survey of pharmacists and consumers concerning their knowledge about colds and their treatment conducted by Matrixx Initiatives, Inc, the maker of Zicam Cold Remedy products. (Full disclosure: I served as a consultant to this survey.)
As you might imagine, the opinions of pharmacists and consumers often differed. Nearly three quarters of consumers (72%) believe there is not much they can do about a cold, except mask the symptoms and wait it out. In fact, one third of cold sufferers admit they wait until they feel miserable before taking medications that can help. This supports the myth I remember growing up: “If you wait out a cold, it will last 7 days, but if you treat it, it will last a week.” If you believe this truism, then you would be slow to take medications that might help.
In the survey of pharmacists, 93% report that early treatment of a cold can actually prevent a physician visit, and 84% believe consumers often make poor choices about the best treatments for their cold. This discrepancy between pharmacists and consumers about cold treatments suggests an opportunity for pharmacists to help patients better understand the options, including types of products that might be taken at the beginning of the cold season, so that early treatment can be started.
The consumer survey also revealed that much confusion about the cause and treatment of the common cold occurs because of the myths that Americans grew up with—and which stuck through adulthood. The pharmacists surveyed identified these 5 myths as the most difficult to debunk:
• Antibiotics can kill the germs that cause colds.
• Changes in the weather can cause colds.
• Getting wet and chilled can cause colds.
• Sitting in a draft can cause colds.
• Avoiding changes in temperature will help prevent colds.
According to the survey, pharmacists most often recommend zinc (52%) in the early stages of a cold while only 12% of consumers proactively use this product. Consumers use chicken soup (41%) as a means to help stop the progression of a cold. Chicken soup actually keeps you hydrated, and that is why it seems to be helpful.
Pharmacists in the survey recognized the important role they play in helping consumers become better educated about colds and in combating cold-care myths. Nine of 10 pharmacists (92%) believe patients harbor misconceptions about colds and how to best treat and manage them. A total of 97% of pharmacists feel consumers should seek their recommendations about cold treatments and management more often.
Consumer misperceptions about how they catch a cold—and how and when they should treat it—are the most prevalent barriers to optimal treatment. As cold season approaches, it is important for consumers to understand the benefits of early intervention against a cold and to focus on effective ways to shorten its duration. These results also suggest to me that pharmacists need to demonstrate to consumers that they want to interact actively with patients about OTC cold medications.
It is obvious from the consumer survey that patients need the information pharmacists can provide. The pharmacist survey demonstrated that pharmacists realize they have valuable information about cold treatments that would benefit consumers. During this cold and flu season, I suggest you make yourself available to your customers—even more than usual—so you can help them get through this challenging time of year.
Mr. Eckel is a professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He serves as executive director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists.