When we think about the broken U.S. healthcare system, we often focus on health insurance and prescription medicine costs. However, we rarely consider what we spend on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. After all, who cares about spending $10 extra for a little more ibuprofen?
As the co-founder and CEO of a start-up seeking to simplify the over-the-counter medicine experience, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges of the current market. These include high expenses and difficulties accessing information, which is why we built our proprietary database of ingredients and side effects to help customers make informed decisions.
As the co-founder and CEO of an over-the-counter medicine company seeking to simplify the OTC experience, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges of the current market. For example, consumers often overspend when buying OTC medicine because they do not know how to identify which products are appropriate for their needs.
1. One-sided conversations are a waste of time and energy.
It is often difficult to discern the active ingredient in a drug from its brand name. We have been taught to take “an Advil” rather than ibuprofen, and we may not know the difference between a drug’s active ingredient and brand name. The OTC medicine experience has created a one-sided conversation. As of 2019, only 12% of Americans have sufficient healthcare literacy; if 88% don’t have proficient healthcare literacy, most don’t know how the medicine we take works or if it suits us. It’s time to change this by encouraging social media users to explore OTC medicines and engage in conversations about them.
2. The problem of ‘This or That’ confusion
Consumers are often faced with a bewildering array of choices in the pharmacy. Pharmacists can recommend only one brand of medication for a particular ailment; however, if patients are unsure which product will suit them best, they should consult with their pharmacist. Amazon’s private-label brands, such as Amazon Basics and Kindle, are designed to appeal to customers.
3. Storage and solutions that are not permanent
Although Marie Kondo’s Kenmare Method is widespread, most people still use their medicine cabinets as storage space for blister packs, liquids and expired medicines. This OTC experience has become a “buy, use and toss away” business model. Parents often bear the most significant burden of this experience and are forced to create makeshift solutions for storing and managing medicines, including zip lock bags full of ibuprofen, Tupperware containers stuffed with mystery medicine, and purses filled with allergy pills.
4. High pill counts and medical waste pose serious health risks.
Most people don’t need a thousand pills at four dollars apiece. If you have to buy 500 capsules for $3.50 or 1,000 pills for $4, wouldn’t you go for the cheaper option?
5. Reactive purchasing is a type of purchasing behaviour.
Americans make 2.9 billion trips yearly to buy over-the-counter medicines, but many people don’t know the difference between OTC and prescription medicines. If you don’t know whether or not you need a prescription for a medicine, ask your pharmacist before buying it at an airport or train station pharmacy.
Can a better way be found?
Over the last five years, a dozen industries that were once sleepy have been disrupted by companies that embrace radical transparency and use technology to create magical experiences. The mattress company Casper and the suitcase company Away are two companies I’ve been thinking about recently. Casper is best known for its mattresses, which are sold online and delivered to your door in a small box.
Suppose you’re an OTC medicine consumer seeking a better understanding of your medicines and where they come from. If you have over-the-counter medicine you take or need to alleviate symptoms, you should know a few things. First, it’s essential to understand the active ingredient in medicine. Then, focus on finding medicine with ingredients that treat the symptoms you have. You can also better understand the active ingredients in your medicine by asking the manufacturer directly (there is often a phone number on the medicine package itself).
Finally, ask a pharmacist at a retail store for guidance if you’re overwhelmed with the 100+ brands of headache medicine — we’ve all been there!
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Sangeetha brings 20 years of experience in Information Technology which includes Solution architecting, building micro services, research, and evaluation of business applications, integrating apps.