‘People have been practicing self-care for thousands of years. Now an increase in self-care interventions is shifting the way health care is perceived, understood, and accessed, and adding to the many medicines, diagnostics, and technologies available for people to use by themselves.’ This was articulated in an article titled, ‘Self-care during the COVID-19’, published by the World Health Organization (W.H.O) on June 12, 2020.
That COVID-19 prompts increased focus on self-care was also vindicated by several research studies, including some conducted by global pharma majors, such as GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi as you will find below. In this article I shall, therefore, deliberate whether an increasing focus on ‘self-care’, as a critical service to patients can fetch better disease treatment outcomes with respective pharma brands in the new normal. Moving in that direction, let us first be on the same page about the definition of ‘self-care’.
‘Self-care’ and its key benefits?
The W.H.O defined self-care as: ‘Your ability to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider is known as self-care.’ Regular practice of self-care offers a holistic interlinked benefits to its practitioners, which many people have started experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As observed by BMI Healthcare, some of these benefits include:
- Improving your physical health: By committing to looking after your body and becoming more attuned to its needs.
- Reducing stress and anxiety: By making time for relaxing activities.
- Boosting self-esteem: By helping to calm your nerves, taking time to relax and look after yourself can have a positive impact on the way you see yourself. Treating yourself with kindness can also make you look upon yourself kindlier. Studies have found that people with higher self-esteem find it easier to deal with setbacks and are more likely to achieve goals of self-improvement.
- Protecting mental health: By making changes to prioritize self-care can help to manage mental health issues and might even prevent them from getting worse.
- Fostering better relationships: Happier and healthier you are, the more you can give to a relationship. This is especially important if you are a parent or career. It can be so easy to put someone else’s needs first, but you must look after your own health too.
Pharma companies also echoed that COVID-19 has boosted self-care:
As I wrote above, besides W.H.O, several global pharma majors have also recently conducted their own research studies this area, for several reasons. One such research, shared by GSK Consumer Healthcare and IPSOS on 20 July 2020, reiterated that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s behavior and attitudes to self-care.’ The study also endorsed, the pandemic has impacted attitudes towards personal wellbeing and self-care. This gets reflected on the increased importance that many people are now placing on looking after their own and others’ health.
Another article, published in the Johnson & Johnson website on September 16, 2021, emphasized the same point. The Company reiterated, self-care – a holistic and preventive way to look after one’s health and wellness – is more than a passing trend. It’s a lifestyle shift that’s here to stay – one that has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper highlighted, ‘According to one recent national survey, 80% of adults said they intend to be more mindful about practicing self-care regularly after the pandemic. And global research conducted this year found that consumers’ prioritization of wellness has jumped as much as 65% in the past two to three years.’
Recently, even Sanofi in its website acknowledged, ‘COVID-19 highlights Value of self-care as a first line of defense.’ The article added, although, ‘there has been a global trend towards wellness for some time now, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated it. It also endorsed that defensive wellness is growing exponentially with people trying to protect their own health alongside their families. So, there has been a shift in attitudes in how people are practicing self-care, especially, as face-to-face consultations with doctors are now more difficult.
Why ‘self-care’ concept got a boost during COVID-19 pandemic?
There are several reasons behind such unprecedented boost in practicing self-care within the global population. The key ones include intense and continuous public messaging by various governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has emphasized the importance of self-care by manifold. Some of these self-caring activities, such as, social distancing, wearing face masks and other preventative hygiene measures, which have been pivotal in the disease control process.
The national campaigns to tackle the virus with various social measures deployed by citizens, in tandem with traditional public health interventions, like testing and contact tracing, have been widely supported by NGOs, media and key influencers in many sectors. The core message has been, staying home or working from home, and observing government guidelines is – ‘doing your bit’ for others, as well as yourself. The same was also well-articulated in a paper – ‘Self-care and health: by all, for all. Learning from COVID-19’, published by the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University, in July 2020.
‘Self-care’ messaging in the old and new normal – the key difference:
Several pharma companies have tried to understand what factors prompted to accelerate the ‘self-care’ process during the pandemic, as compared to the old normal. And what is the key difference in the core messaging content. For example, Sanofi construed that the self-care messages in pre-pandemic period were generally ‘positive’ ones, such as benefits of practicing yoga and other changes in the general lifestyle activities. Whereas, during the pandemic, the message has been very different. It generally revolved round the ‘fear of the unknown’ that can jeopardize lives and livelihoods.
This factor emerged as a powerful motivator in accelerating a shift to life-saving preventative wellness – not just for self, but also for others. An overwhelming sense of uncertainty put a different perspective altogether to ‘self-care’, especially, for people with co-morbidities or pre-existing health conditions, being more vulnerable to die from COVID-19 infection.
Can pharma leverage the win-win opportunity?
A global study by McKinsey & Company in this area, published on April 08, 2021, vindicated the increasing trend of self-care among global population. Elaborating the point, it said: ‘These days, consumers view wellness through a much broader and more sophisticated lens, encompassing not just fitness and nutrition but also overall physical and mental health and appearance.’ The Company estimated ‘the global wellness market at more than $1.5 trillion, with annual growth of 5 to 10 percent.’ If pharma marketers can leverage this win-win opportunity creatively, brand related self-care measures would also come under this market.
Leveraging increased focus on patients’ self-care:
The fact that an opportunity exists for pharma players to leverage a new opportunity in the ‘self-care’ space, creating win-win treatment outcomes for all, isn’t a new concept. Over a decade, this is being deliberated in the healthcare space. This is evident from an interesting article titled, ‘Helping patients help themselves’, published in the ‘Modern Healthcare’ on June 21, 2010. Acknowledging that “Self-management is critical,” it wrote: “The patient spends one-tenth of 1% of their time in the doctor’s office and the rest of the time on their own. Coming up with good ways to engage them and encourage them to take control and make changes is very important.”
Interestingly, another article carrying exactly the same title – ‘Helping patients help themselves’ – penned by another author, was published after more than a decade – in the ‘Reuters Event’, on November 19, 2021. This author also emphasized: ‘Self-care offers a new way for health care companies to serve patients better, globally and industry collaboration will drive faster progress.’ It reiterated: ‘There’s an opportunity here for healthcare companies to put patients even more at the center of care and to help them achieve better outcomes.’ Pharma marketers, wearing their best creative hats, will find several novel strategic ways to reap a rich harvest from this opportunity. I shall, therefore, won’t step into that area in this article.
Ongoing awareness campaigns, encouraging people to take primary ownership of their own health to prevent any serious medical interventions – both for infectious and non-infectious ailments, can be a force multiplier to protect a nation’s health.
Several ‘self-care’ practices during the pandemic like, wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing, hand washing and self-isolation to contain spread of infection, continues. In tandem, as many experts reported, more people are now using digital tools, wearables, symptom trackers – for self-care. Alongside, virtual medical consultation, home care and telehealth services, purchasing medical products and diagnostic services from e-pharmacies, digital health solutions and the likes are also increasing significantly, for the same reason.
Collectively, self-care initiatives have paid rich dividend – in varying degree, almost in every country, notwithstanding some catastrophic onslaught of the virus in many nations, including India. Otherwise, the numbers could have been worse, as many experts project. That said, as the McKinsey & Companysaid: ‘If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that physical and mental health will remain a priority for millions of people across the globe for a long time to come.’ Being in the thick of this process, the drug industry, by and large, has also realized that ‘self-care’ is crucial to ensure better treatment outcomes. This, I reckon, opens a new vista of opportunity for pharma to leverage, with increased focus on most of these ‘self-care’ practices – for business excellence.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.