Public's views on making decisions about over-the-counter medication and their attitudes towards evidence of effectiveness: a cross-sectional questionnaire study

Patient Educ Couns. 2011 Jun;83(3):345-51. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2011.02.016. Epub 2011 Mar 26.


Objective: To explore factors which may influence consumers when making decisions in relation to over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Methods: Data were collected from members of the public using a face-to-face interviewer-administered structured questionnaire in 10 shopping centres.

Results: 1461 people participated (18.8% males, 81.2% females; ages ranged from under 20 to over 60). Perceived effectiveness, familiarity with the name or brand and safety of the medicine influenced decisions when buying an OTC medicine. Almost all respondents reported that knowledge of effectiveness of OTC medicines was based on previous use. If there was no scientific evidence from drug trials to support effectiveness of a product, but it would not cause harm, two-thirds would still try the product. Over 70% 'agreed/strongly agreed' that people should be able to decide for themselves what OTC medicine they want, irrespective of scientific evidence.

Conclusion: There was ambivalence regarding need for evidence of effectiveness when choosing an OTC medicine, with individual autonomy and safety taking precedence over evidence.

Practice implications: Pharmacists should be aware that patients' expectations in relation to OTC medicines may be in conflict with evidence-based practice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Participation
  • Community Pharmacy Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs*
  • Northern Ireland
  • Pharmacists
  • Public Opinion*
  • Safety
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Nonprescription Drugs