A Canadian study has shown how CAD$1 billion (AUD$983 million) can be freed up from the Canadian healthcare system and the broader economy by switching just three categories of medication from prescription to over-the-counter

The Australian Self Medication Industry has used this report to reinforce its call for a prescription to OTC ‘Switch Agenda’ to enable a regulatory environment that is more favourable to ‘switch’.

Canada and Australia share similar economic and regulatory environments, with Canada having a population of 36.5 million to Australia’s 24.4 million, says ASMI.

It says the report, from The Conference Board of Canada, is important to both the Canadian and Australian governments as both strive for the ‘Triple Aim’ in healthcare – improving population health, enhancing the experience of care and reducing healthcare costs.

The three prescription medication categories considered in the report were erectile dysfunction drugs, oral contraceptives and proton pump inhibitors.

Several PPI drugs have been switched to OTC status in Australia already, while other markets, such as New Zealand, have switched several ED and OC drugs to OTC, although these remain only available by prescription in Australia.

The breakdown in savings for the Canadian study was:

Total savings in drug costs:                        $458 million

Total savings in doctor visits:                     $290 million (6.6 million fewer doctor visits)

Total savings in labour productivity:         $290 million

The report’s authors concluded that OTC switches can be an important policy tool for increasing access to medications, especially for drug categories for which a significant proportion of the population is untreated and the condition can be effectively managed with limited doctor supervision.

Other advantages to consumers include better knowledge of treatment options and greater empowerment to self-manage minor ailments.

Due to the potential economic benefits for the health care system, the report authors concluded that switching could also contribute to health system sustainability.

“By far the biggest impact from over 6.6 million fewer doctor visits and hundreds of millions of dollars in drug plan savings is to provincial and federal government healthcare budgets,” said Karen Proud, President of Consumer Health Products Canada.

“At the same time, all Canadians would benefit from easier access to medicine they need and the reduced burden on our strained healthcare system. Allowing people to choose a trip to the pharmacy instead of missing work to see a doctor just makes sense.”

ASMI says it believes that switch is a key enabler for consumers to better self-manage their health, in consultation with a pharmacist.

A regulatory environment favourable to switch would encourage more innovation in OTC medicines while also providing significant savings to the healthcare system. ASMI proposes a Government switch policy, which requires a supportive regulatory framework, a streamlining of processes, and a ‘switch agenda’.

A switch agenda will identify target candidates for future switches through collaboration with consumers, pharmacists, GPs, and the medicines industry, e.g. triptans for migraine, antibiotics for urinary tract infection and chlamydia, oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction medicines.

ASMI shares the view of the Canadian report authors, who concluded that pharmacists may play an increasing role in the movement toward greater consumer choice and increased access to affordable medicines.