A rising force in healthcare


“Happier, healthier lives through responsible self-care” — that’s our vision at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). Retailers and manufacturers of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines share the responsibility and privilege of enabling more self-care in the U.S. by delivering what consumers want most: an expanding variety of trusted consumer healthcare products conveniently and cost-effectively available without a prescription.

For too long, U.S. healthcare has focused on practitioners treating patients rather than empowering consumers, when appropriate, to treat themselves. In an era of unsustainable spending on healthcare and chronic shortages of medical professionals, self-care can and, indeed, must play a larger role in the U.S. healthcare system.

Effective and reliable self-care is made possible by a range of products manufactured by CHPA members, including OTC medicines and dietary supplements, but also consumer medical devices. These products provide a trusted and affordable way for families to get well, stay well and feel well. Consumers look for these products in convenient and reliable locations at prices they can afford, no matter where they live. That’s where retailers play a critical role, by offering consumers access to the safe and effective healthcare products they demand and deserve, 24-7 in stores and online.

The continued rise and demand for self-care is the single most significant force at play in the consumer health space. As this trend continues to grow, the consumer health landscape is evolving, forcing all stakeholders to evolve as well. CHPA plays a leadership role in promoting self-care and advocating for policies that lead to industry-wide growth, but to effectively support this trend, we have to understand what is driving it.

The momentum behind self-care is being driven by three key factors: changing demographics, economic pressures, and the role of technology — all of which affect the way consumers purchase self-care products. This presents great opportunities for the consumer health and retail industries.

  First, let’s look at the demographics of self-care consumers. They are comprised of a broad group of individuals with different medical needs and expectations. On one hand, there is an aging population with increasing healthcare needs and on the other there is a younger population that is increasingly independent and self-sufficient. The Baby Boomer generation is aging-in-place and living healthier and longer lives, but with more chronic conditions requiring more medications than any generation before. Gen-X is taking care of older parents and older children and even young grandchildren. Gen-Y (millennials) is now the largest generation in U.S. history. They are fiercely independent and twice as likely to rely on peers, as well as technology, to guide their healthcare decision-making. They are very cost conscious and less brand loyal than older generations. Gen-Z is a completely digital generation with the best understanding of — and demand for — information technology in virtually all aspects of their lives. All these generations demand accessible, affordable self-care options, of which OTC medicines play a vital role.

Second, there are economic pressures: Consumers are shouldering more and more of their personal healthcare costs and looking for value in every dollar they spend. As most health insurance plans continue to impose greater cost-sharing via premium costs, deductibles, and copays, affordable self-care options become even more critically important. These economic realities are driving demand and shifting self-care behaviors, putting pressure on retailers and manufacturers to meet their needs. Industry innovation can help relieve some of the pressure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released new guidance on innovative approaches for greater consumer access to nonprescription medicines, which could potentially allow certain types of medicines only available by prescription (Rx) today to one day be ‘switched’ to nonprescription, OTC use if manufacturers can identify novel ways to help consumers correctly self-select and safely use them. For example, digital health technology such as apps or new additional types of labeling.

This leads me to my final point: the power of technology. Consumers today have access to more health information than ever before, empowering them to make their own, informed decisions. This allows them to better self-diagnose and turn to non-prescription options, where appropriate. Technology is also shifting where and how we access consumer healthcare products. In fact, 76 percent of all shopping trips begin online, which leads to a more highly customized shopping journey. Though e-commerce currently represents just 15-17 percent of consumer health sales, it is growing at 25 percent annually, dwarfing sales growth at traditional brick and mortar locations, according to the latest data from IRI.

All stakeholders in the consumer healthcare industry — suppliers, manufacturers and retailers — want the self-care trend to keep growing, and we want the supply of safe and effective products to keep expanding so we can meet the needs of all adapt to our new reality: changing demographics, economic pressures, and the increasing role of technology.  RL

Scott Melville is the president and CEO of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the 137-year-old national trade association representing the leading manufacturers and marketers of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and dietary supplements.