Effects of the Pharmaceutical Industry on the Health Care System

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The current model of the pharmaceutical market creates a conflict between the competing interests of the patients and the pharmaceutical industry where the increasing market expansion and profitability of the industry is happening at the cost of patients’ ability to receive the most appropriate and effective treatment. The interests of the Pharmaceutical industry outcompeted the interests of patients and public health providers by the increased integration and resulting influence of the pharmaceutical industry in all aspects of healthcare and medical research. This increased influence of the pharmaceutical companies allowed them to expand rapidly through mainly two complementary processes: Disease-mongering and “pharmaceuticalisation”. Disease-mongering is described as efforts to enlarge the market of a treatment by either narrowing the definition of health so more people seek medical intervention or by broadening the definition of disease so milder symptoms and health conditions now require medical intervention. Pharmaceuticalisation is the increasing belief of individuals and healthcare providers that the best method of treating most ailments is only through a pharmaceutical solution. (Applbaum 84-102) These two processes have led to an environment where the prescription of a specific treatment does not depend on how effective it is but rather how well the manufacturer of the treatment has marketed their brand in comparison to other treatments. The total spending on pharmaceuticals across OECD countries is estimated to be more than 700 billion USD in 2009. (OECD 7.4) This incredible amount of revenue and wealth gives the pharmaceutical industry an equally vast amount of power and ability to influence.

Competition in the pharmaceutical industry

Free-market advocates claim that competition results in the best possible outcome for all parties involved. Perfect competition is claimed to lead to the best product for the consumer and it’s also supposed to prevent market domination by a few producers. However, the pharmaceutical industry does not exist in a perfectly competitive market. The competition between the pharmaceutical companies does not result in a superior product for the consumer and it also has not prevented a market that is dominated by a few players. In the current state of the pharmaceutical manufacturing, competition between companies leads to the focus on the most profitable market niche. It is not in the interest of competitive companies to spend time and money developing drugs that are not profitable, and therefore, innovation is not likely as companies try to maintain their dominance over profitable areas of care. Furthermore, this competition is one of the reasons for the existence of “me-too” drugs. Competition between pharmaceutical companies has resulted in "me-too" drugs. “Me-too” drugs are when pharmaceutical firms develop their own, virtually identical, version of a successful drug just so they can stay competitive. (Angell 1451-1453)

There is more to the competition in the pharmaceutical business than just intra-industrial competition. The pharmaceutical industry’s goals are to expand their marketplace and to maximize profits, and therefore, any intermediating actor has to be either a threat or an ally. Regulating bodies, Pharmacists, Doctors, patients, special interest groups, advocacy groups, different levels of governments, biomedical and biotechnological research and researchers, public health organizations, international trade organizations, the media, and even students who are in the path of joining the field of healthcare become possible barriers to the ultimate goal of the pharmaceutical syndicate and are therefore treated as competitors. This is one of the reasons why the current pharmaceutical system is detrimental to public health systems. The goals of the industry and the goals of a public health system are at competition to each other and pharmaceutical companies, like any...
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