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Nothing to Sneeze At: New Poll Shows Majority of Canadians Tough it Out, but Common Cold Still Causing Costly Headaches for the Healthcare System

(February 3, 2015 – Ottawa, ON) – According to a new survey by Consumer Health Products Canada (CHP Canada), 77% of Canadians who recently suffered from cough/cold, headache, allergies or heartburn, said they would rather manage these minor ailments themselves instead of visit a doctor. Seventy-three percent (73%) used over-the counter medications (OTCs) or natural health products (NHPs) consumer health products to manage their conditions. 

Survey results show the choice of self-care over unnecessary doctor visits for minor ailments is growing.  The poll of just over 1200 Canadians conducted by Redfern Research, found that almost half of Canadians (49%) said they are more likely to practice self-care than they were five years ago, compared to only 14% who said they are less likely to practice self-care.

“The vast majority of Canadians prefer to practice self-care when they experience minor ailments like cough/cold, headache, allergies or heartburn,” says Karen Proud, President of CHP Canada. “This common sense approach to treating minor ailments not only gives them more control over their own health, it saves the healthcare system money.” 

“The not so good news is that almost 1 in 7 Canadians (14%) with a minor ailment chose to see a doctor during their last illness episode, just to be reassured,” says Proud.  (Table 1) “This tells us that more could be done to help Canadians with their self-care options.”

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Costs to the healthcare system

CHP Canada estimates[i] the total annual cost to the healthcare system of doctor visits by adults for these four minor ailments, not including the cost of any medications prescribed, lab tests or pharmacy dispensing fees, to be $1.5 billion.  These costs also do not include those associated with minor ailments in children.

Doctor visits for relatively minor ailments can be appropriate. “Of course there are circumstances where it’s important for Canadians to consult their doctor,” says Gerry Harrington, Director of Policy with CHP Canada. “Particularly for those who are at risk of complications like young children, the elderly or those with underlying health problems. However, millions of Canadians do not have access to a family doctor,” says Harrington.

Of the one in seven Canadians who saw a doctor for their minor ailment, 16% did so despite reporting relatively mild symptoms. If these people, representing just over 2% of all minor ailments cases in Canada at any given time, were confident in practicing self-care instead, enough doctor resources would be freed up to provide primary care for over 500,000 Canadians who currently don’t have a family doctor[ii].

“We know that self-care works. When Canadians have trusted information and the right tools, including access to safe and effective over-the-counter medications and natural health products, they can take greater control over their health, which we know contributes to a more sustainable healthcare system – it just makes sense,” says Proud.

While this government has made great progress in eliminating regulatory red tape, updating the Food and Drugs Act, and recognizing the importance of self-care, there is still much more that can be done by industry, government and healthcare professionals.

What Can Be Done to Enhance Self-Care’s Contribution to Canadian Health Care?

For Canadians

  • Make more informed choices by discussing your self-care options with your doctor or pharmacist
  • Look for credible sources of health information such as provincial and federal government health portals, websites associated with accredited health institutions or professions, and other evidence-based sources when seeking information on the Internet
  • Always read and follow the label directions when using consumer health products

For the Federal Government

  • Allow medications to retain their eligibility under the Medical Expense Tax Credit as well as their GST-exempt status when they are removed from prescription status
  • Continue to improve the process for removing medications from the prescription drug list to over-the-counter status, so that Canadians can have more safe and effective self-care options

What is the Consumer Health Products Industry doing to enhance self-care?

Making new self-care options available by continuing to bring innovative, safe and effective consumer health products to market and developing consumer-friendly tools such as peel-away labelling to provide better and clearer information for Canadians who practice self-care

  • Employing new dosage forms and packaging technologies to make consumer health products safer and easier to use.

Consumer Health Products Canada

Consumer Health Products Canada is the trade association that represents the companies that make evidence-based over-the-counter medicines and natural health products.  These are the products you can find in medicine cabinets in every Canadian home.  From sunscreens and vitamins, to pain relievers and allergy medications, people use consumer health products to maintain their health and manage their minor ailments. This is a fundamental part of self-care which is vital to the health of Canadians and the sustainability of our healthcare system.

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Consumer Health Products Canada Research

* The survey was conducted online by Redfern Research between January 12 and 18, 2015 with a sample of 1304 Canadians. Respondents were screened to identify those who had suffered one of four minor ailments in the last two months (n=1201) and those who had visited a doctor for one of those ailments in the last two months (n=400).


For interviews and more information:


Danielle Côté

Susan Smith

Consumer Health Products Canada

Bluesky Strategy Group

C: (613) 799-9057

C: (613) 371-0624

T: (613) 723-0777 ext. 226

T: (613) 241-3512 x 221 




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[i] Based on methodology in Willemsen KR, Harrington G. From Patient to Resource: The Role of Self-Care in Patient-Centered Care of Minor Ailments. SelfCare 2012;3(3):43-55

[ii] Willemsen KR, Harrington G. From Patient to Resource: The Role of Self-Care in Patient-Centered Care of Minor Ailments. SelfCare 2012;3(3):43-55




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