From DTCA-PD to patient information to health information: the complex politics and semantics of EU health policy

Authors

  • Eleanor Brooks BA MA,

    Researcher, Corresponding author
    • Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, County South, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Robert Geyer PhD

    Professor of Politics, Complexity and Policy
    1. Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, County South, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
    Search for more papers by this author

Correspondence

Ms Eleanor Brooks

Department of Politics

Philosophy and Religion

County South

Lancaster University

Lancaster LA4 4YD

UK

E-mail e.brooks@lancaster.ac.uk

Abstract

Rationale, aims and objectives

Between 2001 and 2011 the pharmaceutical industry, supported by DG Enterprise, was engaged in an ongoing campaign to repeal/amend the European Union (EU) ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs (DTCA-PD). As it became increasingly clear that the ban would not be repealed, DTCA-PD supporters tried to shift the debate away from advertising and towards the provision of ‘patient information’ and the rights of patients to access such information. Meanwhile, a variety of national and European health organizations, supported by DG SANCO, sought to maintain the ban and oppose the industry-supported ‘patient information’ campaign. Instead, they promoted a concept of ‘health information’ that included all aspects of citizens' health, not just pharmaceuticals. This article aims to analyse the transition from DTCA-PD to patient information to health information and examine its implications for EU health policy as a complex policy space.

Methods

The article examines the emergence and development of EU health policy and the evolution of the DTCA-PD debate through the lens of complexity theory. It analyses the nature of the semantic, political and policy transition and asks why it occurred, what it tells us about EU health policy and future EU health legislation and how it may be understood from a complexity perspective.

Results and conclusions

The article concludes that the complexity framework is ideally suited for the field of public health and, in particular, the DTCA-PD debate. Having successfully shifted the policy-focus of the debate to patients’ rights and health information, opponents of the legislation are likely to face their next battle in the realm of cyberspace, where regulatory issues change the nature of advertising.

Ancillary