18 November 2019 - Deborah Wilkes
“Self-care has great potential to improve health outcomes for people and support savings for stretched healthcare budgets,” according to a new report written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by RB.
There is a “huge opportunity” for policymakers to recognise self-care as an important tool and make it a larger foundation of healthcare systems around the world, says the report on policy approaches to self-care.
However, the report warns there will “not be progress unless policymakers take action”. “Self-care is not a magic bullet, nor is it self-sustaining,” states the report. “Stakeholders have to commit to building an environment where patients and healthcare professionals alike are empowered and engaged.”
Laxman Narasimhan, RB’s chief executive officer, says a new approach to healthcare that empowers people to look after their own health is needed.
“We believe that enabling people to manage their health and wellbeing is key to solving the multiple healthcare crises across the industrialised and developing world, and to relieving pressure on overburdened healthcare systems,” says Narasimhan.
Narasimhan adds that achieving this will require the “commitment of all stakeholders towards initiatives that put the patient at the centre of treatment, an equal commitment to better education, and a greater emphasis on self-care”.
Call for action
According to the report, self-care must be positioned as an integral part of healthcare policy. “Countries still have room to prioritise self-care in their healthcare policies,” observes the report. “This encompasses prevention and health promotion, as well as supporting people to better self-manage conditions, including those that are chronic and/or self-limiting in nature.”
“This can be achieved through better public health policies and improved education and health literacy, so people can make informed decisions about health-seeking behaviour,” adds the report.
The report also stresses the importance of supporting research for evidence-based policies.
“Countries need to better understand their populations’ relationship with self-care,” says the report. “This includes dependence on formal services for self-treatable conditions, when and why people have not fully engaged with self-care, health literacy levels, engagement by medical professionals in patients’ self-management practices, and patient awareness of supplemental services such as those provided by pharmacists and patient groups.”
There needs to be more research on wasted resources and the socioeconomic benefits self-care can bring, adds the report.
“Much of the existing research on self-care comes from North America and Europe, but even in these regions there are large gaps around self-care models, tools and behaviours that would help policymakers in drafting tailored, targeted solutions,” says the report.
Noting that some Asia-Pacific economies, such as Taiwan and Australia, are building self-care research centres for the purpose of developing a stronger strategy, the report says this is “an approach from which other countries can benefit”.
Training and empowerment
The report stresses the importance of training healthcare professionals to empower patients as well as empowering pharmacists and engaging patient groups. “Pharmacists are an underutilised resource in helping populations to self-care,” it points out.
The report also highlights the role of pilot programmes.
According to the report, there is a need to “strike a balance for OTC medications”. “The ability to self-medicate is an important factor in self-care,” says the report, adding that the “availability of OTC medicines can lessen reliance on prescription medicines, especially for minor ailments, and increase consumer choice.”
“Regulators and policy frameworks should strike a balance between improving access to innovative self-care medications on the one hand,” continues the report, “and public health considerations, including consumer safety, quality and efficacy, on the other hand.”
Managing the benefits and risks of new technology is raised by the report. “Regulators will need to seek a balance in improving access to innovative, effective self-care technologies, including apps and devices, while safeguarding consumers,” it says. “New digital solutions are already ushering in a new wave of self-care opportunities.”
“Efficient regulatory systems to manage the growth of medical devices and apps will become more important as this space develops and we learn more about benefits and risks,” says the report.
Plan for the long term
Finally, the report stresses the need to “be realistic” and “plan for the long term”. “Although self-care can reduce costs and increase patient outcomes,” says the report, “these results come from a well-planned long-term strategy.”
“To view self-care only as a budget-saving tool will disappoint,” it adds. “Results will not show overnight, and success requires energy, time, investment and dedication.”
Zephanie Jordan – RB’s chief safety, quality, regulatory and compliance officer – says the aim of the report is to “support policymakers to move towards formally including self-care in healthcare frameworks at national and international levels”.