Self Care is not a universally well understood concept. The Self Care community adopts the World Health Organization’s definition of self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health care provider.”
However, we know from our daily practice and from conversations with our International Pharmaceutical Federation, and the broader network, that the notion of Self Care is multifaceted and multidimensional, involving a broader set of stakeholders and subject to cultural influences.
Self Care belongs to a continuum that involves individuals, families, communities, health care professionals, and policymakers at different levels and with different responsibilities. Individuals cannot — and should not be expected to — optimally embrace Self Care practices and behaviours without the support of policymakers and health care providers. Just as patients and consumers will need to adopt Self Care practices in order to take greater responsibility for their health, policymakers and health care providers will need to commit to developing and providing those tools and opportunities for health literacy education.
To that end, support and trust among all stakeholders — health care providers, patients and consumers, and regulators and policymakers — are essential to maximizing the adoption of Self Care behaviours, regardless of what self-care means in various geographies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an opportunity to elevate and deepen the conversation on Self Care, to better equip clinicians and policymakers alike with the knowledge they need to leverage Self Care as a tool for empowering patients, improving health outcomes, and reducing health system costs. And pharmacists are aware of their responsibility as health care providers to support Self Care, along with its critical prerequisites, such as patient and consumer empowerment, and health literacy.
We know that 90% of individuals see Self Care as central to the prevention and treatment of both minor complaints and chronic conditions. Unfortunately, only 2 out of 10 report feeling “very confident” in managing their own health. That is, while consumers trust and value self-care in theory, they are less confident about adopting Self Care products and behaviours in practice.
This gap between consumers’ desire to practice Self Care and their functional ability to do so can be addressed through policymaker and health care provider action. After all, Self Care has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing macro-public health challenges, including the pursuit of universal health coverage, the prevention and management of chronic conditions, and the provision of high-quality care for fast-growing aging populations.
Self-Care Readiness Index
Launching in September 2021, the Self Care Readiness index will fully examine the role of policymakers, health care providers, and consumers in supporting a vibrant Self Care ecosystem.
Policymakers play a critical role: in order for self-care to be embedded in a society, it must be institutionalized via direct changes to public policy advancing self-care programs. Consumers and health care providers both have a symbiotic role to play in the self-care ecosystem — consumers need health care provider support to feel confident in adopting Self Care behaviors, and health care providers need consumers to adopt Self Care behaviors to reap the maximum benefits of health promotion and chronic disease treatment plans.
A 2019 study well described the need for change and confirmed over and over again from pharmacists: Consumers’ lack of knowledge about health issues and worries about mistakes are two of the key barriers to the self-management of minor ailments.
Patients and consumers look to trusted clinician partners — oftentimes their primary care provider or pharmacist — for guidance on Self Care products
Pharmacists play a front-line role in empowering people for responsible Self Care at the community level, interacting daily with patients and consumers making decisions about self-care products and behaviours in pharmacies around the world.
Below is the specific role pharmacists have in supporting Self Care, which is based on WHO’s definition of the role:
With the launch of the index in September and the launch of a toolkit in November to support pharmacists in supporting responsible Self Care choices, we look forward to continuing this important conversation.