Comparative pharmaceutical policy and "prescribing cultures"

Health Affairs 072008

The July/August issue of Health Affairs, the leading U.S.-based health policy journal, focuses on China and India. The special issue includes an article on China’s pharmaceutical policy by five contributors to Prescribing Cultures and Pharmaceutical Policy in the Asia-Pacific, a book forthcoming in 2009 from the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center series with Brookings Institution Press. Chapters on Korea and Japan by Soonman Kwon (Seoul National University) and Toshiaki Iizuka (Aoyama Gakuin University) also appear in Chinese translation in the journal Bijiao (Comparative Studies), along with an overview paper (“Pharmaceutical policy reforms to separate prescribing from dispensing in Japan and South Korea: Possible implications for China”) by Karen Eggleston, Asian Health Policy Program Director.

As Eggleston writes in the introduction to Prescribing Cultures, pharmaceuticals and their regulation play an increasingly important and often contentious role in the health care systems of the Asia Pacific.  For example, some economies such as China have extraordinarily high drug spending as a percentage of total health spending; India and a few others host thriving domestic pharmaceutical industries of global importance, while controversy surrounds patents, trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIPS), and pharmaceutical pricing within bilateral trade agreements (Australia-US, Republic of Korea-US); nations throughout the region struggle with appropriate regulation of drugs, from patents to evidence-based purchasing (e.g., Australia’s Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme) and direct-to-consumer advertising; deeply-rooted traditions of indigenous medicine are modernizing and integrating into broader health care systems; and policies to separate prescribing and dispensing re-write the professional roles of physicians and pharmacists, with modifications to accommodate cultural norms and strong economic interests. Effective prescribing and pharmaceutical use will be central to controlling infectious diseases, both old and emerging; protecting the global public good of antimicrobial effectiveness; and treating the growing burden of chronic disease in the Asia Pacific.

The forthcoming book will explore these issues in detail, through a multi-disciplinary lens. The first section of the book features chapters on pharmaceutical policy within seven selected health care systems of the Asia Pacific: South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, India, and China. The second section focuses on the cross-cutting themes of prescribing cultures and access versus innovation. Taken as a whole, the contributions aim to provide an evidence base for policy while acknowledging the historical and cultural context that makes policies distinctive.