Editor's Note: The Pharmacist and OTC Products

Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS; Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
Published Online: Wednesday, March 17, 2010
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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.

On my recent New Zealand visit, I was interested in the number of pharmacists-only drug products. These were drug products that pharmacists could sell directly to patients for specific indications. In this country, we call this a “third class of drugs”—and it has been a policy goal to get such a class of drugs implemented for many years without success. (Plan B may be an example of such a drug product.) I share this goal, because now that we have an increased number of prescription drugs that have been granted OTC status, I believe that there may be an opportunity for pharmacists to take a more active role in helping patients choose the proper OTC product. Such an effort would help demonstrate the fact that pharmacy’s mission of “helping people make the best use of their medication” is indeed being endorsed by practicing pharmacists.

The opportunity for pharmacists to take on this role was reinforced for me recently when I served as the facilitator for the National Pharmacist OTC Survey roundtable, a project supported by Zicam, LLC. Although I was asked to undertake this assignment in my role as a pharmacy faculty member at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, I must declare that Zicam, LLC, is an advertiser in pharmacy publications, including Pharmacy Times. Seven pharmacists from around the United States joined me in the roundtable.

I enjoy these activities, because they allow me to either validate my beliefs about pharmacy or help me change my perspective through new insights from my colleagues. All of us were provided a company overview and we had ample opportunity to discuss products, ask questions, and gain new insights and perspectives. I always leave these discussions better informed about the products pharmacists recommend and the companies that make those products.

The reason I got involved in this project was to better understand how practicing pharmacists felt about the opportunities available to them to take a more active advisory role regarding cough and cold products during the upcoming cold and flu season, which is still in full swing. The survey of practicing pharmacists was conducted this past summer. The roundtable was held on October 24, 2009, to review the survey results and offer the perspective of pharmacy educators and practitioners on additional actions that might be taken.

On the Pharmacy Times Web site, we have been offering a weekly podcast highlighting a different key finding each time. The 5 key findings were:

1. Pharmacists expect that their key role will increase this cold/flu season based on the following environmental factors:

• Community pharmacists believe that this cold and flu season will bring more aggressive infections.
• Pharmacists report that the economic downturn will increase their role in health care this cold and flu season.

2. Pharmacists expect OTC cold and flu products to become more important this cold and flu season.

3. Few pharmacists actively search out information about OTC cold and flu products. (Our focus group identified roles for pharmaceutical manufacturers to help address OTC product information for busy pharmacists.)

4. Pharmacists feel it is important to treat a cold at the first sign of symptoms, although they report that most patients do not do so.

5. Efficacy is the most important consideration for pharmacists providing counsel about OTC cold and flu products; oral zinc-based remedies were found to be most effective in shortening the duration of a cold.

As I participated in this focus group, I kept being reminded of the unique opportunities we as pharmacists have because we are so accessible to the public. We are knowledgeable and informed professionals, and we care about the people we help.

Although we can always do more, occasionally it is nice just to reflect on what a good job pharmacists do. I learned from this focus group that many pharmacists are taking an active role in helping patients select OTC products. Perhaps that activity contributes to keeping pharmacists “number 2” (after nurses) as the most trusted professional. Could even more effort in helping patients select OTC products move us back to “number 1”? ■


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