The FDA is considering expanding the definition of what can be considered a nonprescription drug. The reasoning behind the possible new policy is the FDA wants to streamline healthcare. Studies have found that up to 20% of patients will not get prescriptions filled or they will not return to a physician to get prescriptions for refills. Moving some of the most common medications to nonprescription status would decrease the number of visits to physicians and may increase the likelihood that patients who need these medications will get them.
Dangers of the Change
The problem with nonprescription drugs is that many consumers think they aren’t as dangerous as prescription drugs. People tend to think if the drugs are available to anyone, then they must be perfectly safe. Unfortunately, this is not even remotely true. Nonprescription medications can be dangerous for any number of reasons. They may cause an allergic reaction, they may cause harmful side effects when used with other medications, they may cause other medications to not work as effectively as intended, or they may cause physical problems when taken too frequently. Because these nonprescription medications are not monitored by a pharmacist and patients often forget to inform their healthcare provider about any nonprescription medications they are taking (because they are supposedly safe) this can quickly become a serious problem.
What it Means for Pharmacists
There will almost certainly be an increased burden placed on pharmacists if this new plan becomes a reality. Patients may need to see a physician to get an initial prescription then be required to follow up with a pharmacist for refills. This would require the pharmacist to make a judgment on whether or not the medication was working properly. This would likely only work well with increased technological support and communication between physicians and pharmacists. It may require upgraded computer hardware and software which would be costly for the pharmacies and potentially require extensive new training for those already in the field.
The good news about this change is that it really may help people get the medications they need. Some patients simply do not have the money to visit a doctor and get their prescriptions filled. This would allow those patients to maintain and even improve their health. While an increased dependence on electronic systems may seem a bit unnerving to some, it will likely make overall patient care a better experience by making sure all providers are on the same page in regards to patient health.
What do you think about the possibility that some medications may soon be OTC? Do you think this will benefit your practice and your customers or do you think it will simply lead to more problems in the long run?