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European study shows: Poor health literacy a major challenge to self-care[1] with opportunity for pharmacists to play a more prominent role

  • The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe[2], a health-economic summary report, by GSK Consumer Healthcare and Vintura, reveals the barriers and opportunities to people managing their everyday health.
  • 80% of Europeans accept that it is their responsibility to manage their own health and are willing to do so but only 2 in 10 feel very confident in managing their own health.2
  • 58% of Europeans have access to a pharmacy within 5 minutes, revealing an opportunity to engage with, and champion, the role of pharmacists in self-care.2
  • Although 80% of Europe’s health budget is spent on chronic diseases, only 3% is spent on prevention.2



GSK Consumer Healthcare and healthcare consultancy Vintura today announced the summary report The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe. The study, which is based on insights collected in a literature research with circa 300 scanned articles and interviews with relevant stakeholders, found four key barriers that Europe must address in order to improve everyday health for one and all: health literacy, investment in preventive healthcare, awareness of self-care by healthcare professionals (HCPs) and access to over-the-counter-medicine in some markets.2


Self-care could evolve healthcare in Europe, delivering benefits such as enhanced quality of life to individuals, communities and wider society.


In a post-pandemic world, self-care can help ease the burden on health systems by keeping people healthy and reducing visits to doctors. For example, in the UK, the average waiting time to get an appointment with a general practitioner (GP) is 13 days, whilst 18 million GP visits every year are for conditions that are self-treatable.2


It’s about health literacy[3]

The vast majority of people consider it important to take their health into their own hands to relieve pressure on healthcare systems: Spain 84%, UK 77%, Italy 75%, Germany 63%[4]. However, The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe study shows there is opportunity to empower people to engage in self-care. Although 80% of Europeans accept that it is their responsibility to manage their own health and are willing to do so, nearly half (47%) of the adult population possess an inadequate or insufficient health literacy.2 With only 2 in 10 Europeans feeling ‘very confident’ in managing their own health, there is a clear need to provide the public with trusted, reliable and consistent healthcare advice and services, as and when needed.2

Investment in preventive healthcare

Although annually around 80% of Europe’s health budget has been spent on chronic diseases in past years, only 3% has been spent on prevention2,[5]. Investing more in health literacy to enable responsible self-care will allow individuals to foster healthy behaviours that contribute to prevention such as staying in good health, detecting a disease at an early stage, or reducing disease severity.2


An opportunity to engage pharmacists and healthcare professionals

With self-care positioned across prevention and treatment, there is also an opportunity to provide support to healthcare professionals and to individuals. Empowering healthcare professionals is equally important as empowering individuals. In many European countries, doctors receive little training on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines meaning they do not always have them on their agenda as a first-line option to recommend to patients.


In terms of education, pharmacists play a key role as enablers too. Across Europe, pharmacists are the main suppliers of OTC products, meaning they are well positioned to enable self-care.2 As of 2016 around 58% of Europeans are able to access a pharmacy within 5 minutes of their location.2  The combination of location and accessibility means that most consumers have ready access to a health professional’s advice, on demand.


However, the perception and trust in pharmacies varies across Europe revealing an opportunity to raise awareness of the skills and expertise of pharmacists.2 Especially taking into account that some 41% of people in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK intend to use a pharmacist more in the future in order to get their advice about concerns like joint/movement pain, headaches, skin rashes or colds and flu.4


Different countries, different access

Access to OTC medicines differs across Europe – resulting in sometimes unequal access to products across the region – meaning there is also an opportunity for increased collaboration and adoption of best practice among European countries.2


Filippo Lanzi, Regional Head, EMEA GSK Consumer Healthcare, said,

“At GSK Consumer Healthcare, we’re well-placed to help redefine the role of self-care in people’s lives through fostering partnership and collaboration and through providing scientifically-backed brands – and we believe this holds a long-term benefit for both individuals and society as a whole.”


“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been encouraging to see the increased importance that many people are now placing on looking after their own health. We would like to harness this increased awareness by doing more to improve health literacy and empower people to manage their everyday health with confidence.”


“In times of uncertainty and ‘fake news’, it is our responsibility to provide guidance and clarity to our patients and consumers. If we want to overcome misinformation and improve health literacy, we need to explain science to people in a way they understand, using the right channel, at the right time, so they can make informed decisions and find the products and sources of information they know they can trust.”


“Findings from our study show there is a great opportunity to collaborate further with industry, regulators, policy-makers, healthcare professionals, pharmacists and industry to realise the full potential of self-care. And as a leading consumer healthcare company, we believe we should initiate this debate to drive awareness of the value responsible self-care could bring to healthcare systems and societies.”



Professor Lieven Annemans (PHD), Senior full professor health economics, Ghent University, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Public Health and Primary Care

“Research shows that health literacy is one of the greatest barriers to self-care. There is, however, keen public interest in self-care, with many wanting to improve the way they manage their own health. But thereto more support and guidance is needed. Better health literacy creates empowered individuals who can take better control of their own health and make the right choices. There is a clear opportunity for governments, health systems, regulators and healthcare professionals to work together to remove this barrier in order to enable people to engage in self-care with confidence.”

[2]GSK Consumer Healthcare and Vintura: The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe. A potential to rethink its position in the healthcare system. 2020, Available at:
The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe has combined a literature search (c.a. 300 articles scanned, c.a. 70 articles used in the study) with interviews with relevant stakeholders to gain an understanding of how self-care is positioned in different countries in Europe.

[3] Following WHO: ‘health literacy has been defined as the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health. (…) By improving people's access to health information and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment.

[4] GSK Consumer Healthcare and IPSOS COVID-19 EMEA self-care survey 2020.

[5] The WHO refers to disease prevention to interventions which aim to minimise the burden of diseases and associated risk factors - either society or individual-based. WHO (2017) World Health Organization, Assessment of essential public health functions in countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

About the study

The study has been commissioned by GSK Consumer Healthcare and conducted by healthcare consultancy Vintura. It ran between May 18th and September 21st, 2020. The study is based on insights collected using both a literature review and interviews with relevant stakeholders. For the literature search, specific search terms were used (e.g. self-care, self-monitoring, self-management, non-prescription) to identify relevant literature in different search engines and databases. The search was focused on European data, containing mostly articles from the last 10 years. Both scientific articles and white papers/reports were included. Vintura had two working sessions with academics (Professor Lieven Annemans and Professor Maarten Postma) to discuss the outcomes of our study. Vintura conducted 7 interviews with relevant stakeholders from national, European and global associations. The interviews focused on how interviewees see the position of self-care in healthcare systems and the different barriers and enablers of self-care.


Sources as taken from and as detailed in the Summary Report The Health-Economic Benefits of Self-care in Europe. A potential to rethink its position in the healthcare system. 2020:



About GSK / GSK Consumer Healthcare:

GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with a special purpose: to help people do more, feel better, live longer. We have three global businesses: pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products.

GSK Consumer Healthcare is one of the world's largest consumer healthcare companies. We own some of the world’s best loved healthcare brands including Sensodyne, Voltaren, parodontax, Panadol, Corega (Polident), Otrivin. These brands are successful in over 100 countries around the world because they all show our passion for quality, guaranteed by science. They are inspired by the real wants and needs of the millions of people who walk into pharmacies, supermarkets, market stalls and go on-line all over the world every day and choose us first. For more information please visit


About Vintura

Vintura is a leading strategy & organisation consultancy specialised in healthcare and life sciences, founded in 2000. We apply our extensive expertise and experience to support healthcare providers, payers and pharmaceuticals and medical devices companies to bring about ongoing improvement based on a clear vision and solid strategy. Vintura operates both on an international and local level, working for HQs and associations as well as local healthcare organisations and affiliates, herewith taking into account local healthcare systems dynamics.

We work with our clients to arrive at smart and effective solutions. Our mission is ‘creating meaningful impact in healthcare together’. We do so based on our core values: being ambitious and brave in finding the best solutions whilst being emphatic and sincere to create optimal commitment.

Vintura consists of 30+ dedicated professionals and has offices in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Italy and Germany and is currently further expanding into Europe.


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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2020