How embracing self-care can alleviate the increasing pressure on Europe’s healthcare systems

European healthcare systems face a huge challenge: an ageing population and costly innovative therapies drive the need for larger health budgets. In addition to a growing scarcity of doctors and nurses. Self-care has the potential to alleviate the pressure on healthcare systems, however its value is often overlooked. In our recent study “The health economic benefits of self-care in Europe”, done in collaboration with GSK, we have shown the important role that self-care plays. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs, where we dive deeper into some of the outcomes of the study. In this first blog, we discuss how self-care can help alleviate the pressure on European healthcare systems.

Through 2019 and 2020, COVID-19 has accentuated the importance of self-care for healthcare systems. Through the pandemic, individuals grew more aware of the importance of taking ownership over their own health and taking the right preventive measures to stay healthy. Also, visiting a doctor or emergency department for minor self-treatable conditions is not a possibility anymore, given the number of patients requiring intensive healthcare attention. Recognizing self-care as an important part of healthcare is important for the long-term sustainability of healthcare systems. Self-care has the potential to improve health outcomes and bring significant health-economic value for our healthcare systems and society as a whole.

Better health outcomes

Enabling and empowering people to manage their own health improves their autonomy and confidence. There is also ample evidence showing that self-care can lead to significant health benefits. For example, through healthy habits and conscious daily choices, we can improve our everyday health significantly. A clear example is oral health, where there is broad evidence showing that good habits reduce caries and periodontal disease. Additionally, through the correct use of over-the-counter products, self-care plays an increasingly important role in treating the symptoms of minor ailments and chronic conditions. Occasionally using over-the-counter medicines for the self-management of pain enhances people’s quality of life, while reducing work impairment and hospitalizations. Similarly, medicines available over-the-counter show benefits for the management of chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, the fastest growing cause of disability worldwide, where pain management is a cornerstone.

1.2 Relieving the pressure of healthcare systems
Figure 1. Potential savings in Europe and annual savings in Sweden from having medicines available over-the-counter

Relieving the pressure of healthcare systems

Additional to improving health outcomes, self-care can help alleviate the increasing financial pressure on European healthcare systems. One way of achieving significant cost savings is to switch medicines from prescription-only to non-prescription, where it is safe to do so. On a yearly basis, moving only 5 % of prescription medications to non-prescription status would result in an estimated total savings of over 16 billion euros in Europe (Figure 1).

1. In Sweden alone, it is estimated that by having seven products for self-treatable conditions available over-the-counter, 1.1 billion euros are saved annually. We will deep dive on this topic further on our second blog in this series.

Beyond cost savings, enabling people to use over-the-counter medications has the potential to contribute to a better resource allocation (Figure 2). A shift to self-care frees up time for doctors to focus on patients with more serious illnesses, as well as reduce waiting lists. This is significant, considering that in the UK, approximately one fifth of the total number of visits to the emergency department involve conditions are suitable for self-care. 3

2.2 examples-of-the-use-of-resources-for-self-treatable-conditions-in-the-UK
Figure 2. Examples of the use of resources for self-treatable conditions in the UK.4

Overcoming the barriers that keep us from focusing on self-care

Despite the enormous potential of self-care, several barriers prevent self-care from reaching its full potential. One of the largest barriers to self-care is the lack of health literacy. Even in Europe nearly half of the adult population shows limited health literacy.

5. A second barrier is posed by a limited focus on prevention: 80% of Europe’s health budget is spent on treating largely preventable chronic diseases, while only 3% is spent on prevention.

6. Lastly, due to Europe’s wide variety of healthcare systems, access to over-the-counter medicines varies incredibly among countries and pharmacists are often underutilized in supporting self-care. Yet, if we choose to shift our focus to self-care now, a breakthrough in the way we organize healthcare could be on its way, benefitting all Europeans. We believe it can be done.

3.2 Expenditure on prevention in Europe _ report form Vintura and GSK
Figure 3. Expenditure on prevention in Europe

Let’s discuss

Inspired to share your thoughts? Or would you like to learn more about our vision on self-care and the value it can bring to healthcare systems? We would be delighted to hear from you. Please feel invited to contact Bas Amesz.


1. The Economic and Public Health Value of Self-Medication. AESGP,2004. Last accessed Nov 10, 2020. Available at: https://aesgp.eu/content/uploads/2019/10/THE-ECONOMIC-AND-PUBLIC-HEALTH-VALUE-OF-SELF-MEDICATION.pdf
2. Sju exempel på kostnadsbesparingar tack vare egenvård. Last accessed Feb 16, 2021. Available at: https://www.lif.se/fokusomraden/i-fokus/mer-egenvard-frigor-resurser/sju-exempel-pa-kostnadsbesparingar-tack-vare-egenvard (not available anymore)
3. Five examples of waste in the NHS. PAGB, 2016. Last accessed Nov 10, 2020. Available at: https://www.pagb.co.uk/content/uploads/2016/11/Five-examples-of-waste.pdf
4. A self-care White Paper: supporting the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan. PAGB, 2019. Last accessed Nov 10, 2020. Available at: https://www.pagb.co.uk/content/uploads/2019/03/PAGB_Self-Care_White-Paper_v1-0.pdf
5. Sørensen K, et al. Health literacy in Europe: comparative results of the European health literacy survey (HLS-EU). Eur J Public Health. 2015; 25(6): 1053–1058. https://doiorg/10.1093/eurpub/ckv043
6. State of Health in the EU: companion report. European commission, 2017. Last accessed Nov 10, 2020. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/state/docs/2017_companion_en.pdf
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