Bouquets & Brickbats Brussels Style

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  • 10/09/2006
All is not quiet on the Western Front.

Since the EU’s High Level Pharmaceutical Forum (HLPF) recommended that Europe revisit new, more patient-friendly rules towards direct-to-consumer health care information (what our transatlantic cousins refer to as, “information-to-patients” or “ItP”) the merde has hit the fan.

Hey, you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet.

Bouquets to MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, one of the EU Parliament's three representatives on the HLPF, who finds the current information ban on medicines unacceptable. "I can understand a ban on advertisements but I can not agree on the ban on information, which leads us to a situation where patients are obliged to surf around the Internet to look for information on medicines. Citizens can not be deprived of information by their own governments on such crucial issues as one's health," he argues.

And brickbats to Health Action International (HAI) who claims, “there is no health information gap in Europe.” ( HAI (no relation to Hospital Acquired Infections – but you think they would have thought about that before adopting the acronym) disallows with a wave of their hand any useful participation by the pharmaceutical industry in providing patient information because of a “natural conflict of interest.” How very Rousseau. But concepts of natural liberty notwithstanding, HAI offers up al lot of the usual anti-industry accusations without even a scintilla of evidence. I guess since it’s “natural,” no proof is required. Weak argument.

And who does HAI consider excellent sources of patient information? Get this – IQWIG and NICE to name two. Really. I am not making this up.

HAI waves the usual banners of “evidence-based medicine,” “rational use of medicine,” and the “over-medicalisation of the European population.” And they are very clearly adherents to the Precautionary Principle of "doing nothing until you know everything" (not surprising since one of their major funders is the Rockefeller Foundation).

And listen to this, “For each option (of type of medicine) patients should be able to clearly identify benefits (degrees of clinical effectiveness on important outcomes, convenience, etc.) and harms (potential side effects, disturbances of personal and social life, etc.). Yes – and every taxpayer should have a deep and profound understanding of the tax code. How about this as a recommendation – let patients have access to information from every source and then let them speak with their physicians. That’s when good things happen.

“Degrees of clinical effectiveness?” Isn’t that the job of … physicians?

By the way, in case you’re wondering about where HAI gets its money -- out of a total budget of €1.022.169 (2002 figures are the latest available) €557.604 came from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of that funding, €300.104 was spent on something called the “Drug Pricing Project.”

Aha and indeed. Will better-informed consumers want broader access to more pharmaceutical options? Nuff said. And let's face it; EU governments don’t want to spend the money -- outcomes notwithstanding. No wonder HAI points to IQWIG and ilk as the best sources for consumer health care information.

What a blatant charade.

Information is Power.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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