Pharma Policy 101

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Q: What is Pharmaceutical Policy?
Pharmaceutical policy is the rules, processes, and structures that are put in place by governments and public agencies to manage problems related to the availability of medicines and the role of medicine in health care.


Q: What are the policy goals in Canada?
We believe that the main goal of pharmaceutical policy is:

To produce measurable and sustainable improvements in the level and distribution of the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations through policies, practices, and technologies that are acceptable to the society in which they are used.

To achieve this goal, policies (and therefore policy makers) must balance a number of sometimes-competing policy objectives, including accessibility, safety, appropriateness, sustainability, and other goals.


Q: How do policies achieve social goals?
To achieve social goals, policy may influence the actions and work within the pharmaceutical sector. These actions include among others, discovering, testing, prescribing, dispensing, using, and monitoring. We think of these key actions in the pharmaceutical sector as various “stages of a life-cycle related to the availability and use of medicines.”


Q: Why are policy systems so complex?
Pharmaceutical policy is complex because of the many actors and areas of work within the sector, and the many inter-related policy goals that are being pursued.

Pharmaceutical policies are part of larger policy systems involving many agencies, policy instruments, and varying degrees of policy coordination and communication. These policy systems are also situated within the broader social and political context of a health system and nation at large.

Therefore, there is no single, magic-bullet pharmaceutical policy; nor is there one agency responsible for managing pharmaceutical policies.


Q: What is pharmaceutical policy research?
Pharmaceutical policy research looks at many areas, like the study of:

  • current or potential problems related to medicines and their role in health care,
  • the actors (private and public) involved in matters related to a given problem,
  • pharmaceutical policies that are currently in place to address certain problems,
  • policy options that might potentially be used to address certain problems, and
  • various forces (legal, political, ethical, etc.) that influence policy initiation, design and implementation.

Studies that look at individual products or patients in isolation are not generally considered pharmaceutical policy research. For example, a clinical trial of a product’s safety and effectiveness is not generally considered pharmaceutical policy research. Studying the systems that influence individual investigations, however, (e.g., rules governing clinical trials) would be considered pharmaceutical policy research.


Q: How is information classified on this website?
We classify the information on this website by using:

The "Life-cycle" Classification System - Information is classified by the various stages (discovering, testing, prescribing, dispensing, using, monitoring) related to the availability of medicines.

The Pharmaceutical Policy Research Classification System - Information is classified by the various aspects of the policy system including the assessment of potential problems or policy performance.