26/06/2013 12:04 BST | Updated 26/08/2013 06:12 BST

Pfizer's UK Patent Has Expired - But What Does This Mean for the Patient?

Pfizer's Viagra, the brand name for the drug Sildenafil Citrate, has dominated the erectile dysfunction (ED) market since its inception in 1998. When it launched, the treatment sparked a sexual and social revolution, helping millions of men around the world who experience erectile dysfunction. Now, arguably one of the most famous sexual health drugs in the world, Pfizer's patent on Sildenafil in the UK has expired, opening up the market to rival drug manufacturers to legally create and sell their own generic version of the drug.

For those who have erectile dysfunction, this is good news. In a recent customer survey by Lloydspharmacy Online Doctor we found that most men felt that price was a barrier for purchasing treatments for erectile dysfunction. However, with Viagra off patent and no doubt numerous generic versions of the drug due to hit the market soon, it's likely that we will see a decrease in price.

But regardless of the predicted increase in generic versions of Sildenfil it will not change how the treatment can be accessed - all patients will still require a prescription. Those seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction should always be assessed by their GP, or through an accredited online service. It's very important that an individual is personally assessed by a medical professional to ensure the right treatment is prescribed for them. Erectile dysfunction treatments are safe, but should not be taken by men with certain medical conditions, or taken in conjunction with other medications. As the market widens, although the core active ingredient Sildenfil will not differ in these different versions it is possible they may contain different additives and preservatives - which the patient could react to.

It is also very important that people who have ED access Sildenfil through a trusted and accredited online source. Using illegal sites to obtain Sildenfil or any other medicines is very dangerous. Last year alone the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) closed 18,000 websites selling illegal medicines. The MHRA, and I share this view, that with the introduction of generic ED treatments we will see a reduction in the number of people supplying illicit versions of the medicines.

But regardless of these changes, it does not alter the fact that many men still feel embarrassed to discuss their erectile dysfunction problems with their GP. Our research has shown that a quarter of men say they have experienced problems with erectile dysfunction, yet only 18% would be willing to talk to a medical professional*. An accredited and trusted online source with UK registered medical professionals, such as Lloydspharmacy Online Doctor, can circumnavigate this, offering a discreet service where men can get advice - and, if appropriate, medication. This avoids a face to face consultation with a medical professional that many men, it seems, would rather avoid.

So is it the end of an era for Viagra? I wouldn't expect so. Viagra is a trusted and very well established brand - and big brands inspire customer loyalty. It has become a synonym for desire in the mainstream lexicon and a global phenomenon. Consequently, as with the effects of the drug itself, maybe the future of this famous little blue isn't that flaccid after all.

*Research carried out by Opinion Matters between 27th December 2012 and 9th January 2013. Survey was carried out with a representative sample of 1888 UK adults (male and female)