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Innovation driving TV idea

EPiC is not simply "pharma TV", but a model to stoke the debate about trusting pharmaceutical companies

A controversial concept of a TV-format direct-to-patient information service provided by the pharmaceutical industry, much maligned by certain press in recent weeks, was not a ham-fisted attempt to persuade the European Commission to permit DTC advertising in Europe but part of an idealogical debate on information rationing, according to its creators.

"How would things change for patients if we changed the legislation controlling information release in Europe?" asked Scott Ratzan, vice-president, pharma and global health, at Johnson & Johnson, one of a pharma foursome behind a new model for DTP communication (also Novartis, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer) - a topic of keen discussion at the recent PharmaBrand Europe summit.

Ratzan acknowledged the challenge of gaining recognition in European policy that the pharmaceutical industry can be trusted to provide appropriately tailored information to patients. He elucidated on the over-zealous critiques of what some press have termed a new self-controlled "Pharma TV" channel purporting to blast consumers with product messages.

Ill-tempered reports, such as that in the UK's Guardian newspaper, Ratzan said, had based their criticisms on something that didn't actually exist, and consequently had overlooked the main point of the debate.

"This isn't even a pilot, it's just a model to try to demonstrate what the future might look like," Ratzan told PM Europe of EPiC, or European Patient Information Channel. "We don't want to have essentially 20th Century laws making it difficult to innovate [in communications terms] in the 21st Century, when innovation means that people should have access to information on old and new medicines, to use them appropriately."

Referring to a comment made by Nick Stace, campaigns director of Which?, who had described the project as 'QVC for patients', Ratzan explains: "Firstly, it's not 'pharma tv', so it's not going to be like a shopping channel, it's not 'infomercial' and that was never the goal. It is a DVD to be used as a model for interactive television - it's just meant to be something where patients, providers, consumers and researchers can put out information that's salient for the population."

Secondly, he adds, the project has the backing of some key patient organisations across Europe, bodies whose reputation is held in high regard and which, consequently, it is safe to assume would not become associated with anything that risked being inappropriate for patients.

Feedback from authorised reviewers has thrown up some criticisms, but not of the content. Any suggestions for improvement were related directly to some of the presentation/stylistic issues, such as how 'clinical' physicians should be made to appear and whether women might prefer to watch a female doctor when learning about breast cancer and its treatments.

"Getting information out in Europe is much more of a challenge than in the US, and you could argue that patients in the US are much better informed about diseases. In Europe, because of its history of central control, the concept of ëinformingí is still
in the realm of 'we want to control it from the centre'.

"But I think idealogical shifts are occurring, as people start to ask why they can't get information about diseases and treatments - new and old - in Europe, when their US counterparts can."

In line with the development of new technologies, the sphere of patient information would, as one might expect, evolve and progress, which is what the EPiC project attemps to do. It is too early to say whether or not it will ultimately become an interactive television service, though what is clear now is the principle underlying the thinking behind it.

If not even a temperate attempt is made to influence the EU legislation, currently barring manufacturers from finding innovative ways to release information across Europe, the laws will likely remain unchanged for many years.

19th July 2007

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