Self care and self-medication are critical components of modern healthcare. If people chose to seek professional medical care for all the minor ailments they suffer, the formal healthcare system would soon be overburdened. Therefore it is important for healthcare providers to understand how the public approaches such ailments and how non-prescription medicines are used. Factors that can influence a consumer’s ability to do so safely are reviewed over a series of articles. In this first review, the influences on decisions to treat an illness as minor, and therefore treatable without professional advice, are considered.
While there may be individuals that are incapable of self-medication, for the majority of populations there is likely to be a continuum of ability, which people move along with changing circumstances and experience. Reports do suggest that most consumers can and do self-medicate appropriately, however there will always be some that choose not to read labeling or even deliberately misuse agents. Therefore projections of safety for new non-prescription medicines must take account of the potential for misuse or deliberate abuse.
There is more potential than ever for the public to self-medicate, however there is enough cause for concern from the evidence so far to make it unwise for healthcare professionals to be complacent about their ability to always do so safely. Knowledge of the influences which determine self care behavior is an important pre-requisite to guide healthcare policy in this area.
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