Characteristics of Self-Medication

Self-Medication involves the use of medicinal products by the consumer to treat self recognized disorders or symptoms, or the intermittent or continued use of a medication prescribed by physician for chronic or recurring diseases or symptoms. In practice, it also includes use of the medication of family members, especially where the treatment of children or the elderly is involved.

In order to use anon-prescription product safety and effectively, the consumer must perform a number of functions normally carried out by a physician treating a patient with a prescription drug. These function include accurate recognition of the symptoms, setting of therapeutic objectives, selection of product to be used, determination of an appropriate dosage and dosage schedule, taking into account the person’s medical history, contraindications, concomitant diseases and concurrent medications, and monitoring of the response to the treatment and possible adverse effects.

In the case of non-prescription medicinal products, all of the information required to permit safe and effective use must come from the labeling material, patient information texts, the individual’s previous personal experience, various sources of information in the media, advertising, and advice given by health care professionals.

Pharmacists in particular can play a key role in giving advice to consumers on the proper and safe use of medicinal products intended for self-medication. It is important, therefore, to take this role into account both in their training and practice.

The rapid development of new technology, and especially the Internet and related communication systems, has opened up new possibilities for searching for information. This may eventually offer important new channels for the dissemination of knowledge on medicinal products, their characteristics and proper use in self-medication, although the quality of information may vary. It should be emphasized, however, that there are marked differences in opportunities to obtain access to this information between people with different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds and in different countries. Well-tested labeling designed for particular cultural milieu can help to reduce these differences. However, it should not be used in way that would limit the availability the OTC product.

Guideline for the Regulatory Assessment of Medicinal Products for use in Self-Medication
(World Health Organization Geneva 2000)