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83% of Irish consumers signal price as key consideration when purchasing over-the-counter medicines

By Irish Pharmacist - 04th Jun 2024

over-the-counter

Recent research has uncovered some surprising findings around over-the-counter purchasing habits   

The price of everyday, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines is ranked as either ‘very important’ (48 per cent) or ‘important’ (35 per cent) by 83 per cent of participants in a new nationwide poll of over 1,000 consumers, the results of which were recently published.

When asked about the price they pay for OTC medicines, one-in-two consumers (49 per cent) said the amount they pay has increased in the past 12-months. Consumer Price Index data from the Central Statistics Office in February 2024 showed a cumulative 11 per cent increase in the price of OTC medicines versus the previous two years.

Across a range of questions, the research found that people aged 35 to 54 are particularly concerned with price.

Gender divergence

When asked to rank what factors influenced their OTC purchasing decisions, only eight cited brand as a primary factor. The recommendation of the pharmacist (53 per cent) ranked highest, followed by price (33 per cent). On this issue, there was a divergence in attitudes between men and women. Men (58 per cent) ranked the recommendation of the pharmacist as more important than women (48 per cent), while women (38 per cent) ranked price more highly than men (29 per cent).

On the issue of generic and branded OTC medicines, the influential role of the pharmacy was again evident, with 55 per cent saying a pharmacy recommendation in favour of a generic alternative would have a significant impact on their decision.

GP shortages are becoming a greater issue, with patients waiting weeks to see a GP. Forty-eight per cent of people polled said they had faced an issue securing a GP appointment. A further 32 per cent of those who could not secure a GP appointment sought the advice of their pharmacist instead.


The recommendation of the pharmacist ranked highest
(53 per cent), followed by price (33 per cent)

Commenting on the findings in its research, Ms Sandra Gannon, Chief Executive, Azure Pharmaceuticals, said:“There are three big insights from this research — price, trust, and the lack of importance that consumers attribute to the brand name relative to price or pharmacy recommendations.”

Inflation

“While we always knew that price matters, how much it matters and to whom are particularly apparent from this research. Inflation has risen steadily for the past two years, and generic medicines have seen an 11 per cent price increase over this period.

“On trust, the influential role of pharmacies in patient decision-making is clear, as is the importance of sustaining that trust. Patients are savvy and when it comes to OTC medicines, they rate the fundamentals of healthcare expertise and reduced price above all else. That brand ranks as low as it does on their decision-making matrix is notable,” she continued.

“Against this backdrop, our new range of OTC medicines has real relevance. We want to empower consumers to make informed choices when it comes to medicines, reassured that they are getting the best value for a product that their pharmacist believes in. Fexofenadine is the first of these, with further products to following in the months ahead.”

The findings are the first of a range of research topics to be published over the coming months, including on a range of other issues, such as medicine shortages, difficulties securing a GP appointment, and the rising use of unlicensed medicines.

The research was conducted by Ireland Thinks on behalf of Azure Pharmaceuticals and was published to coincide with Azure’s launch of a new range of cost-effective OTC medicines to be rolled-out by the company over the coming 12-months.

Medicine shortages

The results are released as the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) called on policy-makers to expedite the planned introduction of a serious shortage protocol under the Health Miscellaneous Bill for all molecules in short supply. The Union also said the legislation should be flexible enough to find solutions for patients.

The call came as the IPU released the results of its Medicine Shortage Survey, which found that all pharmacists have experienced medicine shortages in recent months, with 57 per cent (60 per cent in 2023) of pharmacies experiencing more than 40 medicine shortages during that period.

Pessimism

It also revealed pessimism among pharmacists, with 84 per cent of pharmacists expecting this problem to worsen over the next 12 months. Further, Irish community pharmacists said they are spending more than four hours and 37 minutes each week managing medicine shortages. In 2018, five-to-10 hours per month was more typical.

This is work that often goes unnoticed and not recompensed, said the IPU. Other findings include that 62 per cent believe allocations imposed by manufacturers is the leading cause of medicine shortages.

The Health Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2024 is currently before the Oireachtas, and will allow the Minister for Health to introduce a scheme where pharmacists can appropriate substitute medicines for patients without needing to revert to the prescribing doctor. “This should dramatically speed up the process for both pharmacists and prescribers and crucially, will ensure that patients get appropriate medicines quicker,” commented Ms Clare Fitzell, IPU’s Head of Strategic Policy.

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