Delivering a step-change in self-care

Self-care has become a popular buzzword of late, with both the media and general public increasingly adopting the practice as a means to boost health. But what does it mean for the future of healthcare? How are changing attitudes – particularly of the millennial generation – affecting the way patients view their own health and what impact will this have on healthcare professionals?

To better understand attitudes towards self-care, Sanofi commissioned the Be Your Best 2019 report, which was built on research from eight markets with 2,000 millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), 75 GPs and 75 pharmacists questioned in the UK. The objective was to deliver a global report on empowering the ‘net generation’ to make the most of self-care.

A complex landscape

The research revealed a fundamentally complex self-care landscape in the UK, as well as the challenges facing both millennials and healthcare professionals (HCPs) in maximising the benefits of self-care.

Maintaining a good level of personal responsibility for health sits at the heart of self-care, with 67% of UK millennials highlighting that they are very or somewhat confident of doing so on a regular basis. However, the research showed that only a minority take self-care seriously, with just one in three looking for information at least once a week to inform self-care choices and purchases.

Such findings are, on initial reflection, quite surprising. The ‘net generation’ is comfortable with using a broad array of digital information sources online with internet research scoring highly in its preferred sources of information on self-care. However, overall it has yet to make that step-change to fully embrace the information at its fingertips. Furthermore, when it comes to treating healthcare conditions, only 39% of UK millennials questioned feel well informed enough to stay healthy or treat a minor health condition.

The ‘Dr Google’ habit

On the other hand, 27% of UK millennials stated a lack of knowledge of key health issues as the main barrier for self-treatment of minor conditions. So, although the desire to move towards a self-care mindset exists, current attitudes highlight greater scope for educating both consumers and HCPs on the options available for improving self-care in the UK.

Sanofi’s research also indicates that the internet, or the colloquially referred to ‘Dr Google’ approach of online self-diagnosis, is clearly a central source of information on general well-being and minor health conditions.

However, despite this, millennials continue to also place a high value on visits to their GP or pharmacist. Consumers cited internet research (40%) and specific health websites (23%) as preferred sources of information, closely matched by visits to the pharmacist or GP, which scored 31% and 27%, respectively.

Whereas older generations continue to place their trust in face-to-face or phone contact with their GP and pharmacist, it’s clear that the ‘net generation’ supplements such engagement with its own research and solutions, but not to an exceptional extent.

Alleviating pressures on the NHS

Another key consideration of the Be Your Best report is why self-care must be seen as a key component of the future healthcare landscape. The government is focusing significant attention and resource on prevention – both primary and secondary – in the hope of alleviating current and future pressures on the NHS.

This is an approach that Sanofi fully supports and, as such, has undertaken research to better understand the challenges and potential solutions that the pharmaceutical sector can deliver. The firm’s Power of Prevention report identified that a behavioural shift in prioritising prevention amongst healthcare professionals is not enough in isolation.

Self-care is inextricably linked to prevention. Research has found that there are 57 million GP appointments and 3.7 million visits to A&E every year for self-treatable conditions, which is estimated to cost the NHS as much as £2.3 billion a year.

UK GPs suggest consumers should rely less on medical professionals and increase their personal responsibility for self-care. However, one of the striking findings from Sanofi’s research is that while GPs are viewed as an important source of information by millennials, only 13% of GPs regularly learn about self-care practices.

Despite an increasing proportion of the ‘net generation’ using online sources to better inform themselves, the role of the GP and pharmacist as a credible and respected information source hasn’t changed.

UK GPs lagging behind in access to  self-care information

The research also showed that UK GPs lag significantly behind the global average in their access of self-care information on a weekly basis, with 38% of GPs globally meeting this requirement compared to 13% of their peers in the UK.

This perhaps highlights how the self-care landscape is much more prevalent in countries such as the US, where 45% of GPs say they inform themselves of self-care practices at least once a week.

In addition, just 12% of GPs and 23% of pharmacists in the UK feel well informed about the options available for patients to seek self-care solutions, clearly underlining the challenges for policymakers and the NHS alike in encouraging patients and HCPs to transition to a self-care focused approach to prevention and treatment.

A large proportion of GPs (62%) and pharmacists (57%) feel that UK millennials do not practise self-care sufficiently at present, which is perhaps at odds with the sentiments expressed by millennials themselves.

Upskilling healthcare professionals

Healthcare professionals can only bridge such a perception gap by increasing their knowledge base and having more informed conversations with patients on how they can enhance self-care. But how is this achieved?

Improving awareness and self-care techniques will enable GPs to better educate their patients and perhaps reduce demand on GP appointments in the long term. Just under 60% of the ‘net generation’ say that in future they want to diagnose and treat a greater number of their conditions at home rather than seeing a doctor.

Upskilling pharmacists, who are increasingly seen by patients as the initial point-of-contact from a primary care perspective, will allow them to suggest the correct course of action and have an honest conversation on the self-care choices available to manage specific conditions.

There is also an opportunity for the government, stakeholders and providers to tap into the millennial generation’s propensity to seek out new solutions via technology. The growth in wearable tech and fitness-based apps has already had a significant impact on people’s understanding of health.

Nearly half (48%) of the ‘net generation’ use an app for health-based monitoring at least once a week. Understanding how such trends can be utilised from a self-care perspective should be an aspect of the government’s long-term approach. The government recently published its prevention green paper following its much-heralded ‘Long Term Plan’, but prevention must not be seen as an isolated issue.

Sanofi’s findings conclude that a national self-care strategy, in conjunction with NHS England and Public Health England (PHE), which seeks to raise awareness of self-care and using treatments appropriately would tap into growing awareness and preference towards self-care, particularly amongst the millennial generation.

The firm is optimistic that this approach will significantly ease the burden on the NHS and play a part in cultivating self-care as a standard element in the health of the nation.

“The findings of the Be Your Best report and the ongoing insights received from all the preventative health research we are undertaking at Sanofi, is aimed at ultimately supporting the health system in the UK,” Fabio comments.

“By embracing this understanding of the future trajectory of the public’s self-care habits we can work together with health-care professionals and patients alike in bringing the best possible information and broader adoption of good self-care as standard practice in the UK.”

Fabio Mazzotta is Sanofi’s head of Consumer Healthcare for North and South Europe