What do you do when you have a bad headache and don’t know which medicine to take. Well, you pick up your smartphone search the internet for its treatment and medication. There! You have options , you buy the listed medicine, consume it and your headache is gone! Relieved ? It’s that simple, isn’t it? But, in reality, you just made it all quite complicated. This kind of trending behaviour is a major form of self-care and is known to be ‘self-medication’. Which in other words can be defined as -the use of medicine without any professional supervision.
Most commonly available OTC medications are painkillers, cough and cold remedies, anti-allergy medicines, vitamins and energy tonics. But, to our surprise now even antibiotics are being taken and have slipped into the category of OTC medicine even without any prescription from a doctor. Although some of the medications for common diseases are considered risk free but their continuous, excessive and prolonged use can also lead to serious side effects and unfavorable reactions.
According to a recent study in healthcare sector, the percentage of self medication has changed a lot and it all depends on the various demographics and region. The prevalence of self medication seem to be mainly high in professional students. Study also reveals that current frequency of self medication is high amongst young individuals and literate working class who do not have enough time to visit a physician. Other reasons include easy access: Purchase of medicines from several drug stores, which provide the medicine without any prescription. Other factors include: Fragmented healthcare system, waiting time, healthcare cost and lack of awareness. And the percentage of such cases of self medication is increasing in India on a daily basis.
This kind of self-medicating behaviour is a growing concern in the society now. The prime reason why it’s growing further is that health and technology now go-hand-in hand. Initially, use of technology in healthcare was to make things better and easy but over a period of time, technology is accessible to everyone around and so is the right to know through digital revolution.
Technology is embedded in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. Everything one needs to know is now just a click away. Getting ill and finding or creating self prescription is a very common practice. It does come easy and second it costs nothing in terms of money. It sure is helpful but if we continue this way, it can cause more repercussions than the benefits. This kind of practice by patients gets them towards greater independence in making decisions about management of minor illnesses, thereby promoting empowerment.
Self medication also has advantages for healthcare systems as it facilitates better use of clinical skills, increases access to medication and may contribute to reducing prescribed drug costs associated with publicly funded health programmes. Having said that, it still involves more risks than benefits. Self medication is associated with risks such as misdiagnosis, use of excessive drug dosage, prolonged duration of use, drug interactions and polypharmacy. The latter may be particularly problematic in the elderly. Self-medication is far from being a completely safe practice. Potential risks of self-medication practices include: incorrect self-diagnosis, delays in seeking medical advice when needed, infrequent, but severe adverse reactions, dangerous drug interactions, incorrect manner of administration, incorrect dosage, incorrect choice of therapy, masking of a severe disease and risk of dependence and abuse.
According to recent reports, most drugs for self-medication were obtained from the pharmacy or drug shops; and the most commonly used drugs were paracetamol and prior experience and the non-seriousness of the illness were the top two reported factors for self-medication. Self-medication was practiced with a range of drugs from the conventional anti-pains to antibiotics. Not just this, even those medicines used for perceived minor illness and those for some chronic or recurrent conditions are potentially harmful.
Irrational use of medicines is now a major problem. As per WHO, more than half of all the medicines are prescribed, dispensed or sold inappropriately; and that half of the patients take them incorrectly, irregularly, or not at all. Although the practice of self-medication appears to be inevitable; drug authorities and health professionals need to educate people about the cons of self-medication. Low compliance to prescribed medical interventions is a major concern in the healthcare sector.
A doctor should share a healthy relationship with his patients and give them necessary information now and then, and most importantly encourage education about their own illness. This in turn would prove to be an effective way to ensure the correct use of medications by the patients. The pharmacist on the other hand can also play an effective role in discouraging self-medication. They should stop dispensing any prescription medicine without a prescription and during this course, the risk of self-medication should be clearly explained to discourage the patient on doing so. The pharmacist should identify the symptoms of complex and minor illness and respond to them accordingly or refer the patient to the doctor if needed. Above all, we as educated individuals should value our health and stop this practice of self medication. It’s always better to understand your illness and the treatment options for it from a doctor.
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” – George Bernard Shaw
Dr. Vishal Sawant is the co-founder of Juno Clinic (www.juno.clinic), India’s leading online and offline mental wellbeing clinic. He is one of the most well-known psychiatrist in Mumbai who has been in practise for over 17 years and in the past was associated with institutes like Dr. RN Cooper Hospitals and Guru Nanak Hospital, Bandra. Dr. Sawant believes that each person is unique and the treatment method he deploys reflect that fact. His special interest areas include mood disorders, schizophrenia, depression, personality problems and relationship counselling. He provides a warm, supportive, and interactive environment to explore and resolve patients’ concerns by understanding their origin and helping them acquire the skills to utilize, implement and attain the changes they want to achieve in their lives.
Dr. Sawant is involved in a considerable amount of community psychiatry work covering awareness creation, psycho-education and diagnosis through his association with several Charitable Trusts.