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Interview: Ten Minutes With... Rob Elliott of Viatris

Rob Elliott is healthcare marketing director at Viatris, manufacturer of OTC product Viagra Connect 

What impact do erection problems have on men and their partners?

Approximately 5 million men in the UK are affected by erection problems (EPs) and this number is continuing to grow, yet only 4 per cent of men have spoken to their pharmacist about the issue. While EPs are often believed to only affect older men, a quarter of men under the age of 40 years can be affected.

A recent survey showed EPs can have a big impact on a man’s wellbeing and self-esteem causing 31 per cent to feel ‘inadequate’ and more than a quarter (27 per cent) to feel like a ‘failure’. Unsurprisingly, mental health is negatively affected with feelings of anxiety (27 per cent), depression (19 per cent) and lack of confidence (23 per cent) also being reported.

EPs can also inadvertently become a point of contention between couples if the problem hasn’t been openly discussed. A recent study found almost a fifth of men who had experienced EPs said this had caused arguments in their relationship, with 14 per cent stating that it had nearly ended their relationship and 7 per cent saying it resulted in the eventual breakdown of their relationship.

Men are notoriously private when it comes to discussing their health and it is not a surprise that so few have discussed their erection issues at a pharmacy. This is a condition shrouded in silence and embarrassment, with some men waiting up to two years to seek help. In this time, wider underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes may go unchecked. That is why it is so important to talk openly about the issue with a healthcare professional such as a pharmacist, who can provide guidance on potential treatment options.

How are you currently supporting Viagra Connect?

It has been a busy 12 months for the brand with the launch of a new marketing campaign in July and now the new Viagra Connect trial size 2-pack, aimed at men who are worried about trying an erection problem treatment for the first time. The new 2-pack has all the reassurance of the iconic and trusted Viagra brand at an acceptable entry price.

We also launched Time to Raise It, a new movement that looks to remove the shame and stigma associated with erection problems and to put the joy back into sex, backed by an alliance of different organisations and individuals including the Men’s Health Forum and Brook.

We’ve got some exciting work in the pipeline for this year to further amplify the movement, which we hope will drive men to pharmacies as we continue to normalise the condition to the point that it is no longer associated with stigma and more men feel comfortable to visit their pharmacy with no shame or embarrassment.

What practical things can pharmacy teams do to remove the shame and stigma associated with EPs?

Conversations around EPs are naturally very sensitive to have. That’s exactly why we have recently developed some new training materials for pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to support them in handling these tricky conversations.

We advise staff to be conscious of non-verbal cues and look for opportunities to initiate conversations with men who are browsing the male health category but look hesitant to ask a question. This provides pharmacists with an opportunity to initiate a discussion with the customer and help them to feel at ease.

We would also advise that pharmacists use their consultation room as a place for discussion. As already mentioned, it can take some men up to two years to seek help for EPs, which shows how important it is to be discreet and approachable. Pharmacists are often the first port of call; there to help and suggest, but never to judge.

Would you ever envisage Viagra Connect as a GSL product? 

Pharmacists and their teams play a critical role in helping men with EPs, offering accessible advice to those seeking help for the condition. As Viagra Connect is not suitable for all men, it is important to have a healthcare professional assess the customer to ensure appropriate usage, referring them to a GP where it is appropriate.

A recent study found that 51 per cent of those who had sought treatment for EPs said they would be more inclined to speak to a pharmacist about other health issues, and pharmacists are also on hand to provide additional support for men experiencing the issues – including those related to lifestyle – that may help with the symptoms of EPs. With that in mind we don’t see GSL as the right option in the foreseeable future.

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