Convenience has inundated many aspects of life from cooking easy meals, getting immediate access to information, and achieving quicker results among other things. A fast-paced lifestyle is a common norm in most countries. Health is not the exception. More than ever, easy access to affordable medicines, quick medical care and preventative medicine are reaching millions of people around the globe that are offering fabulous opportunities of growth for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.
Convenient health implies creative ways of bringing medicines to remote populations. Just this month of February, the Coca-Cola Co kicked off their new test programme, ColaLife, in Zambia where the company will use its existing distribution network to also bring essential medicines to remote communities in that African country. After all, if people are having access to a Coca-Cola drink, why not also get basic over-the-counter (OTC) acetaminophen/paracetamol to relieve a headache or a minor fever.
From a different perspective, convenience in health often arrives in the form of quick and reliable medical care. Retailers such as drugstores, pharmacies, hypermarkets and supermarkets are expanding their services to include on-site clinics or medical staff to treat minor ailments at low fees. Moreover, retailers are setting up automated kiosks where people can discreetly track their blood pressure and insulin levels in a matter of a few minutes. People are using these convenient medical facilities provided by retailers while governments and insurance companies keep reducing the coverage of medical services at formal clinics and hospitals, and shift them to outpatient settings.
Taking medicines becomes more convenient as novel delivery formats emerge in the marketplace. Easy-to-swallow or simple targeted applications are now offered in a wider array of consumer health products. Fast dissolving technology with no water needed, powder sachets, oral strips and spray shots are just a few of the new forms of conveniently taking a medicine. The “confectionerisation” of OTC drugs, vitamins and dietary supplements is an imminent trend where, for example, taking a flavourful calcium chocolate chew is more fun than swallowing a bitter tasting pill. Parents struggle less when giving medicine to their children as paediatric options present new flavours that entice children to take their medicine. Furthermore, the line between tonics and bottled nutritive drinks sold as dietary supplements becomes even blurrier with the strong emergence of functional beverages fortified with vitamins, minerals and/or protein.
Packaging-on-the go remains at the forefront of convenience in consumer health. Carrying a small pack of tablets or a single dose in a purse or pocket is more convenient than bringing a big bottle or blister of pills. The “medicine cabinet” shrinks as people spend less time at home and need a convenient manner to transport their medicines. For the elderly population, convenience also means having a packaging feature reminding them that it is time to take the medicine or need a refill. Smart packaging using new digital technologies such as GlowCaps (Vitality Inc) send signals to smartphones and pharmacists alerting consumers about timing and dispensing, while improving adherence patterns.
Time is precious as people have less time to visit a clinic or consult a health practitioner for a minor ailment. A broader array of internet-based health platforms and mobile applications make it convenient for people to obtain up to the minute information about common ailments, diseases, locations of medical centres, information on products, etc. no matter where they are located. In fact, the powerful advent of smartphones and tablets allow consumers to effortlessly track their vital signs via a small device connected to their phones or tablets, and send the results to their health practitioner in seconds for further follow-up. These convenient tools are a blessing for people dealing with chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Mobile health (mHealth) and electronic health (eHealth) are strong initiatives being implemented by governments in many countries as they can instantly link health practitioners, pharmacists and patients.
For the industry, convenient health represents a wide door of opportunities for growth in the future. Each day more people are empowered to take care of minor ailments and prevent diseases on their own before consulting a health practitioner. It is no surprise that most pharmaceutical companies are showing strong growth in revenue derived from consumer health activities. It is true that OTC drugs will represent a relatively small share in revenue for major pharmaceutical companies when compared to prescription (Rx) drugs, yet consumer health will continue to bring in a constant stream of revenue. OTC drugs are convenient to produce as manufacturing costs and liabilities on safety and efficacy are lower when compared to prescription (Rx) drugs. Convenient health trends will drive companies to meet new demands of healthcare and product availability that can translate into a powerful competitive position. A deep understanding of the several angles shaping convenient health can create new winners in years to come.