Positive results for S3 ad push


New research by UTS involving more than 2000 participants has shown S3 advertising is unlikely to lead to inappropriate use of medicine

The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) commissioned the Centre for Health Economic Research and Evaluation (CHERE) at the University of Technology Sydney to conduct research into the impact of consumer advertising for S3 medicines on the Quality Use of Medicines.

CHERE recruited almost 1300 consumers, 500 pharmacists and 500 pharmacy assistants for a randomised study in order to assess how they might be impacted by a mock advertisement for S3 cold sore antivirals.

ASMI’s ad model, which was developed in consultation with the Pharmacy Guild and the PSA, was tested in a way that aimed to isolate its impact on consumers, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.

Researchers found that after viewing the advertisement for a hypothetical cold sore treatment brand called “Brand FAM” (Famciclovir), consumers were more likely to report an intention to attend a pharmacy for cold sore management and were less likely to seek treatment from a GP.

They also found:

  • Pharmacists’ recommendations had a positive and significant effect on consumer choice of preferred product;
  • Availability of the product (behind counter or front of pharmacy) was not a significant driver of consumer choice of product;
  • The advertisement increased awareness of both the advertised product (Brand FAM) and generic anti-viral tablets;
  • The advertisement did not have a significant impact on the recommendations made by pharmacy professionals.

Professor Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics and the director of CHERE, says there appears to be no public health benefit from the current restriction on S3 advertising.

“Unfortunately, there is limited consumer awareness of S3 medicines, so many people don’t think to go to a pharmacist for a minor ailment that could be treated fairly easily, without the need for a GP visit,” says Professor Viney.

“Our research showed that the proposed advertising significantly increased the likelihood of consumers engagement in conversations with pharmacists about their health conditions and treatment options.

“Importantly, the pharmacists and pharmacy assistants involved in the study were not influenced by the consumer advertising, and regularly chose the most appropriate treatment for the consumer,” she says.

The pharmacists’ responses also indicated that they were not likely to recommend an antiviral tablet to someone whose condition indicated they should see a GP, she adds.

Reducing costs to healthcare system?

ASMI hopes the positive results will bolster its position in a long-running feud with the government over S3 advertising restrictions.

The group first shared its mock ad back in November 2015 at its annual conference in Sydney, stating its intention to commission CHERE for a study on the ad’s effects.

ASMI CEO Dr Deon Schoombie says the advertisement created more awareness about health conditions and encouraged consumers to open up a conversation with their pharmacist.

“This has the potential to free up GPs’ time for treatment of more serious conditions while reducing costs to the healthcare system,” says Dr Schoombie.

“The current S3 advertising restrictions discourage innovation in the medicines sector because they are an obstacle to down-scheduling (‘switching’ of medicines from prescription to non-prescription), and they leave Australia out of step with countries such as New Zealand.”

S3 medicines play an important role in down-scheduling medicines as they allow regulators to move a product away from prescription-only while still maintaining a level of control over dispensing, say the researchers in their report.

“The evidence further suggests that advertising will not significantly influence the recommendations made by pharmacy professionals and the consumer’s condition is the decisive factor in their decisions when providing services. The S3 advertisement is unlikely to lead to inappropriate use of medicine,” they conclude.

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