How are we feeling?

Almost half of us worry about our health, but despite efforts to persuade people to be responsible for their own wellbeing, the public still overwhelmingly relies on GPs for advice and treatment

Boots’ merger with European pharmaceutical giant Alliance Unichem will create a company with 2,600 outlets across Europe and, reportedly, 18 per cent of the UK retail pharmaceutical market. The new company will be able to fight the might of supermarkets in the battle for custom in the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines sector, although it is selling off its own OTC manufacturing arm to Reckitt Benckiser, in order to concentrate on retail.

The merged group will also be able to capitalise on the Government’s NHS Plan, promoting self-care. NHS Direct, the enhanced role of pharmacists and health information campaigns are all initiatives aimed at encouraging consumers to take responsibility for their own health.

According to A Picture of Health, a report by Reader’s Digest and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), this is a popular policy with the public: 96 per cent of people agree they should be responsible for their own health, while 87 per cent say they prefer to treat ailments themselves rather than visit a doctor. Yet people are not embracing self-care in practice: less than two-thirds of ailments are self-treated and, for most people, the GP is the first port of call when seeking advice.

The number of people worrying about their health has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. In a 1986 PAGB survey, a quarter of the population said they worried about their health. In 2005, this has nearly doubled to 45 per cent – about 20 million people. While this reflects a heightened awareness of health issues, there is little evidence that people are changing their behaviour when they fall ill.

Consumers have so much information that many are confused and stick to what they know best – the doctor. GPs are the primary source of health information, followed by family and friends, and magazines. The internet has had a significant impact on where we seek counsel: 61 per cent of people seek health advice online. Almost all of us are registered with an NHS doctor, yet few people visit frequently, with 32 per cent of people visiting a GP three or more times a year.

Fewer people visit a pharmacist than a GP to discuss health or treatment: just 55 per cent in the past year, compared with 69 per cent visiting GPs. Four per cent have visited a pharmacy three or more times in the past year to discuss a health issue, but 40 per cent say they have not.

Despite this, people respect pharmacists’ expertise. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents agree that “the pharmacist is a good source of advice on everyday ailments”. Furthermore, 40 per cent of people are happy to seek help from a pharmacy assistant, and 52 per cent – particularly the over-65s – would like pharmacies to offer more advice and information.

The report also identifies four distinct types of consumer, each different in how they perceive their health and respond to information and advice: the Invincibles, Engagers, Anxious and Apathetics.

Invincibles have embraced self-care, are in good health and tend not to worry about it. They are predominantly ABC1s, aged 35 to 64. As healthy and well-informed consumers, they rarely seek health advice, yet when they buy a remedy, they choose brands positioned to promote wellness as opposed to tackling symptoms.

Engagers are the largest group (37 per cent of people) and are younger, upmarket adults. They are generally healthy, but worry about their health. They are hungry for knowledge, and use impersonal media – magazines, television, reference books and websites, for instance – to find it. They are also more inclined than average to be influenced by advertising and OTC brand names.

The Anxious (25 per cent) think their health is average or poor and are concerned about it. They are most likely to be aged 25 to 64, in the C1C2DE group, with relatively low incomes. They use more health information sources than any other group, but avoid impersonal sources.

Apathetics are in poor health but are unconcerned about it. Predominantly lower-income (DE) adults aged over 55, 70 per cent of Apathetics are overweight. Apathetics are also the least likely to pursue a healthy diet or manage their weight. Significantly for marketers, they do not trust the media, websites or alternative health practitioners.

For marketers, these groups and their habits have important implications. Marketers of pharmacies and OTC medicines need to focus on Engagers and the Anxious. These groups are more willing to seek advice and be influenced by advertising. The challenge is to persuade these groups to bypass their GPs more often and to seek advice from pharmacists and other reputable sources.

Trends is edited by Nathalie Kilby. Suzanne Lughart, head of insight and consumer insight at Reader’s Digest contributed to this week’s Trends Insight.

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