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Pillar 7: Responsible Use of Self-Care Products & Services

The rational and responsible use of health products and services as part of self-care involves individuals safely and effectively managing their health (and any everyday ailments or minor conditions), where appropriate, with medicines, products, or services. Self-care products and services are the ‘tools’ of self‐care, supporting health awareness and healthy practices, and may include the use of:

  • Prescription medicines (in conjunction with a doctor)
  • Nonprescription medicines
  • Preventative health products, e.g. dental care, mosquito netting, sleep aids
  • Natural health products, traditional medicines and vitamins, minerals, and supplements
  • Devices and diagnostics, e.g. home blood pressure monitors
  • Substance control products, e.g. nicotine gum for tobacco cessation
  • Wellness services, e.g. nutrition planning, gym memberships
  • Health services, e.g. acupuncture, chiropractic, smoking cessation programs

Rational and responsible use of these products or services involves several factors. Firstly, only products and services of safety, quality, and efficacy should be used to self-manage health and wellness. Secondly, when treating an illness, products and services are best used for self-recognizable conditions, and for chronic or recurrent conditions following initial medical diagnosis.

Pillar 7 focuses on the knowledgeable, safe, and effective use of health products and services by individuals in order to better manage their own health.

Rational and Responsible Use of Products and Services is Important Because…

The correct use of health products and services – the tools of self-care – is an important element of maintaining health and wellness. Rational and responsible use of products or services can delay or prevent the development of many conditions and encourage greater independence in managing any illness that does develop. Understanding why and what products a person should use has been shown to strongly empower patients, increase quality of life, and improve self-perceived health.

The impact of healthcare products and services is often underestimated. For example, adequate use of fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing, and fluoridation of drinking water can prevent the vast majority of dental caries, yet 60 – 90% of adolescents and almost 100% of adults are affected by dental caries (Peterson et al., 2005). Commonly available wellness services are similarly effective: enrollment in a group exercise program, which is now regularly offered through gyms and health centers, has been shown to significantly improve strength, cardiovascular fitness, cognitive function, prevent falls, and increase overall self-perceived health.

In 1988, a WHO Report on a study of the role of non-prescription medicines made clear that self-management with healthcare products is an important form of self-care. It stated that “lay self-care is a comprehensive undertaking that includes health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, the treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, the management of chronic disease, and rehabilitation (…) without doubt, self-medication is a major, if not the most important, form of self-care”.

The WHO defines the rational use of medicines as where “patients receive medications appropriate to their clinical needs, in doses that meet their own individual requirements, for an adequate period of time, and at the lowest cost to them and their community”.

Poor or Improper Use of Health Products and Services is the Cause of…

Health products or services can be associated with various types of risks.

It is possible that with more people undertaking self-care and being more self-aware, levels of hypochondria (sometimes referred to as health phobia or health anxiety) may increase. Hypochondria is an excessive preoccupation or fear of having a serious illness. A person measuring their own blood pressure once a week or once a month is undertaking responsible self-care. A person measuring their blood pressure five times a day is not.

The risks associated with medicines are well known and can include overuse, misapplication, the use of excessive dosages, prolonged duration of use, inappropriate use of antimicrobials, often in inadequate dosage, for non-bacterial infections; drug interactions, and polypharmacy.

Irrational use of medicine is a major problem worldwide. WHO estimates that more than half of all medicines are prescribed, dispensed, or sold inappropriately and that half of all patients fail to take them correctly. The overuse, underuse, or misuse of medicines results in wastage of scarce resources and widespread health hazards. There may be concerns that self-care could aggravate these risks, but information education and appropriate consultation with health care professionals can help to manage this.

WHO Recommendations for Rational Use…

The rational and responsible use of self-care products and services may be common sense in many cases. WHO focuses on medicine use, for which some basic recommendations may be made:

  • Always read the directions on the label and leaflet, and any other information you get with your medicine.
  • Follow instructions. Are there other medicines, foods, or activities (such as driving, drinking alcohol, or using tobacco) that you should avoid while using the medicine?
  • Have the pharmacist or doctor explain anything you do not understand.
  • Call your doctor right away if you have a serious side effect or if a side effect does not get better.
  • Complete the treatment course, but if symptoms persist, consult a healthcare professional.
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