As health care consumers increasinglymanage a large proportionof their own minor ailmentsand cosmetic problems without consultinga physician, pharmacists arebeing asked by consumers to play agreater role as community caregiversand are a key factor in consumers'health care decisions. The growingnumber of uninsured individuals andhigher health care costs and copaymentsare primary factors driving theself-care trend and consumer interestin OTC, nutritional, and natural productsfound in the front end of thepharmacy.
Nonprescription products and self-monitoringdevices figure prominentlyin the move toward self-care. A surveyconducted by the GeneralMerchandise Distributors Council(GMDC) in 2002 revealed that 75% ofthe consumers surveyed rely on OTCsto enhance their health, and 77% saidthat they were taking more personalcontrol over their health, comparedwith the previous year.
In the foot-care category, the mostcommon questions pharmacistsreceive are those concerning minorfoot problems, such as bunions, calluses,foot odor, and yellow, discoloredtoenails. According to Arnold S. Ravick,DPM, a podiatrist and spokesmanfor the American Podiatric MedicalAssociation, 80% of Americans havefoot problems at some point in theirlives. He explained: "Lifestyles havechanged, causing people to becomemore active. Walking is a hot topicnow, and shock-absorbing insoles arebeing sold everywhere from pharmaciesto athletic stores. A lot of OTCproducts are very useful."
Examples of the range of productsnow offered in foot care are Profoot'sself-molding insole and natural topicalssuch as NonyX Nail Gel, a uniqueexfoliant that removes discoloring keratindebris buildup under nails. Dr.Ravick said, "Baby boomers, especiallymen, have become more conscious oftheir health, and they want more naturalproducts."
The survey conducted by the GMDCfound that 81% of the respondentsview pharmacists as qualified, knowledgeablehealth care professionals.Many consumers ask questions andseek advice from pharmacists. Yet, only53% felt that they had an establishedrelationship with one, and the perceptionof consumers is that pharmacistsare too busy to talk to them. The drivetoward self-care has created the opportunityfor pharmacists to change thoseperceptions by making customer careservices more of a priority.
According to Retail Merchandiser, thefoot-care buyer for a major drug chainsays that fully 80% of pharmacist recommendationsbecome sales. In-depthknowledge of OTC and other topicalproducts also allows pharmacists tobetter respond to the specific needsand preferences of their customers,including those who prefer naturalproducts.
As the trend toward self-care grows,it is expected that pharmacists willplay a greater role as a trusted source ofinformation and in consumer purchasingdecisions.
Ms. Lawrence is a freelance writer based inStillwater, Okla.