Kiwis have access to a good range of medications at the pharmacy - meaning we can self-manage common illnesses more easily than people in many other countries.
A new study has found New Zealand allows consumers to buy more over-the-counter medicines than people in the UK, Japan, the US, Australia, and the Netherlands. In many cases that means we have better access to medication for conditions like obesity, migraines and cold sores than other countries where the drugs are prescription-only.
For example, New Zealand is the only developed nation where a woman can buy an antibiotic for cystitis from the chemist without visiting a doctor.
Tamiflu is also available from a pharmacist in New Zealand but not in Australia, as are vaccines for shingles, cholera and tetanus.
The study, published last week in peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE, was co-authored by University of Auckland General Practice researcher Dr Natalie Gauld.
She said making medicines that were safe enough available from a pharmacist helped people access them faster and more conveniently. The study found providing flu vaccinations through pharmacists could help reduce barriers to access, and therefore have public health benefits.
Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Peterson said he felt New Zealand had the balance of medications available without a prescription "reasonably right".
For medicines to be classified as prescription, pharmacy-only, or for general sale, government organisation Medsafe's committee of doctors and pharmacists made recommendations to the Minister of Health.
When the committee decided on the classification of medications, it was important to know about the diagnosis, the safety of the drug and its effectiveness, Dr Peterson said.
"Pharmacist training in diagnosis is clearly not the same level as a doctor's training, so we need to be a little bit careful about that."
Women's Health Association director Julie Radford-Poupard said the organisation "would like consumers to have access to comprehensive healthcare as a priority, but we also appreciate the cost barriers".
"It's often easy and definitely cheaper to access medicines over the counter but there are risks and the opportunity for a more holistic look at someone's health is missed.
"We agree for the call for further research into the benefits and risks of over-the-counter meds."
Chief Pharmacist Adviser at the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand Bob Buckham said the study showed New Zealand was leading the way in access to medicines from pharmacies.
"We are one of the countries who do have this special pharmacist-only classification of medicines, meaning that the supply can only be made after a pharmacist has talked with the person about the signs and symptoms they may be experiencing, in order to determine if that medicine is both safe and appropriate to use.
"The Pharmaceutical Society has developed specific guidelines and training for pharmacists when medicines have been reclassified, so pharmacists are made fully aware of which people they can offer the medicine to, and which require a medical assessment by their GP."