As health care consumers increasingly manage a large proportion of their own minor ailments and cosmetic problems without consulting a physician, pharmacists are being asked by consumers to play a greater role as community caregivers and are a key factor in consumers' health care decisions. The growing number of uninsured individuals and higher health care costs and copayments are primary factors driving the self-care trend and consumer interest in OTC, nutritional, and natural products found in the front end of the pharmacy.
Nonprescription products and self-monitoring devices figure prominently in the move toward self-care. A survey conducted by the General Merchandise Distributors Council (GMDC) in 2002 revealed that 75% of the consumers surveyed rely on OTCs to enhance their health, and 77% said that they were taking more personal control over their health, compared with the previous year.
In the foot-care category, the most common questions pharmacists receive are those concerning minor foot problems, such as bunions, calluses, foot odor, and yellow, discolored toenails. According to Arnold S. Ravick, DPM, a podiatrist and spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, 80% of Americans have foot problems at some point in their lives. He explained: "Lifestyles have changed, causing people to become more active. Walking is a hot topic now, and shock-absorbing insoles are being sold everywhere from pharmacies to athletic stores. A lot of OTC products are very useful."
Examples of the range of products now offered in foot care are Profoot's self-molding insole and natural topicals such as NonyX Nail Gel, a unique exfoliant that removes discoloring keratin debris buildup under nails. Dr. Ravick said, "Baby boomers, especially men, have become more conscious of their health, and they want more natural products."
The survey conducted by the GMDC found that 81% of the respondents view pharmacists as qualified, knowledgeable health care professionals. Many consumers ask questions and seek advice from pharmacists. Yet, only 53% felt that they had an established relationship with one, and the perception of consumers is that pharmacists are too busy to talk to them. The drive toward self-care has created the opportunity for pharmacists to change those perceptions by making customer care services more of a priority.
According to Retail Merchandiser, the foot-care buyer for a major drug chain says that fully 80% of pharmacist recommendations become sales. In-depth knowledge of OTC and other topical products also allows pharmacists to better respond to the specific needs and preferences of their customers, including those who prefer natural products.
As the trend toward self-care grows, it is expected that pharmacists will play a greater role as a trusted source of information and in consumer purchasing decisions.
Ms. Lawrence is a freelance writer based in Stillwater, Okla.
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