Intended for healthcare professionals

Head To Head

Should drug companies be allowed to talk directly to patients?: NO

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 12 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1302
  1. Wendy Garlick (, principal policy adviser1
  1. 1 Consumers' Association, London NW1 43DF

    Health care in Britain is undergoing a radical shift, with a series of high profile investigations (such as the Bristol Royal Infirmary inquiry report, published in 2001, and the Shipman inquiry, set up in 2002), changes in NHS delivery, and advances in technology. Traditional approaches are increasingly being challenged, and many people are becoming more involved in managing their own health care.

    While health professionals must respect the wishes of patients who are content with the traditional “doctor knows best” approach, they cannot ignore the growing number of people keen to become more equal partners in decision making about their own health or that of the relatives or friends they care for. Central to shared decision making is the ability for people to make informed choices. To do this, they must be able to gain access to high quality, balanced, accurate, full, and up to date information as well as have it effectively communicated to them by health professionals and others (such as the media). We are therefore campaigning for a more constructive approach to the provision of information based on patients' individual needs.

    The pharmaceutical industry claims to have a direct part to play in educating the public and improving patient information (as set out in the aims of its current “My Medicine” campaign for patient friendly information). On the surface, this may seem attractive. After all, the industry produces the drugs we use. But the Consumers' Association believes that such an approach …

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