WMA Chairman Welcomes Trend Towards Self Medication But Warns Of Risks Involved

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Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the Council of the World Medical Association, speaking in Paris today to the Association Française des Producteurs de Specialités Grand Public, the French non prescription industry, said:

"The likelihood of patients acquiring over the counter medicines outside the pharmacy is likely to increase as the public becomes more knowledgeable about health and new information technologies, such as the Internet, become available. As a result patients will start having to take responsibility for finding, buying and using medicines.

"This will change the role of pharmacists and to some extent of physicians. It will enhance the role of the physician as an adviser and partner to the patient, because even with self medication the patient will have a need to consult his or her physician.

"At the moment all the laws governing information on pharmaceuticals are basically consumer protection laws. When people are ill or diseased, they are in a weak position. They should be able to trust those who claim to have the capability of helping and healing them. However, with knowledge in society about healthcare issues increasing, we are likely to see changes in the laws governing patient information for pharmaceuticals. More information will flow directly from the industry to the end consumer ie the patient.

"But for this to be successful, the information has to be truthful. Otherwise there is a danger that we will see increased side effects or over consumption, with the costs being borne by some party other than the patient ie society at large through subsidies. If this happens there would certainly be a backlash, with more not fewer restrictions being imposed on information. It is therefore up to the industry to make their information as full and as reliable as possible and to meet consumer demands about where that information can be obtained in an appropriate way.

"Physicians have no objections to the increased use of self medication. On the contrary we feel that patients should be empowered, that they should have more of a say and should be the subjects - not the objects - of health care. We therefore welcome the growing power of the patients.

"Self medication has a value in itself because it gives patients a better quality of life and a better chance of managing minor illnesses. However, it is also important to realise that patients place a great deal of trust in their meetings with a doctor. And if the pharmaceutical industry wants to send a message to the patient or consumer, it should also send it to the doctor. Then consumers will accept and believe the message and act accordingly to a greater degree than if they were reached through advertising in the media."