On the EU Elections

I wrote a piece for the Guardian on the Dutch vote during last week’s European Parliamentary elections. Here’s an excerpt:

The headlines on Friday morning in Amsterdam looked not unlike those in the international press around the world: “Far right wins big in Holland”. This was followed by a few paragraphs of analysis, or at least background as to why a leader who says he won’t even show up for work if he is elected could progress in a party in a country that some people still consider as a beacon of open-mindedness.

Yet no matter how big the font or how many exclamation points they use, the power of the far-right voters in the Netherlands is not the only development in 2009. What failed to get much more than a two-line afterthought in all these reports over the weekend is that the Freedom party (PVV) was not the only party to have made gains for the Dutch. Among them, the D66, a progressive-liberal party that has historically championed issues like gay marriage, euthanasia, legalised prostitution and the decriminalisation of drugs, also gained seats. While the PVV Read more

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Municipal Waste in the EU

Wait don’t leave yet. I know the title doesn’t scream exciting, but if you’re like me, you want to know about how the city you live in handles waste disposal.  The EU’s statistics office, Eurstat, has released information for 2007 from throughout the EU27, about how municipalities handle waste, and I think it is very important to analyze these numbers and figure out what is good and what needs improvement as quickly as possible.  And if you don’t live in the EU, I still think it is of interest when it comes to learning what to and what NOT to do when it comes to handling a city’s garbage.

Lets start with the positive: Read more

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Health Consumers of Europa

Currently flipping through the European Health Consumer Index for 2008, which seems to rate nations (in Europe) based on how well the health system treats patients and how empowered patients are. Though as I flip through it, they frequently point out they are not trying to claim to know which is the BEST system in Europe, while still referring to the Netherlands as their winner for 2008.

Their biggest criteria seems to revolve around patients’ rights and subtopics like E-patient files, which indeed there is a pamphlet in my mailbox this week that seeks to explain how that new system works here in the Netherlands.  They also get into what countries are good with introducing new medicines, or which have long waiting lists, or infant mortality, etc etc.  Also following the Netherlands in the top three are Denmark and Austria. You may recall France being often heralded as one of the best health systems in the world, according to this survey, they rank 10th in Europe.. with ,interestingly enough, Estonia right behind them. What keeps France in 10th place? They say the medical system has been too slow in adopting new web based information sharing systems for patient files, and there is some reference to a very authorotarian ASK YOUR DOCTOR tradition that holds patients back.

Such studies are interesting, but as I’ve mentioned before on this bog, in my experience the Netherlands is not big on proactive medicine. Doctors number one reaction to anything is to send you home. That may be appropriate alot of the time, but it leaves me wondering how often patients with something important are turned away… that doesn’t sound very patients’ rights to me. But yes indeed, they’ve got this new e-patient file system and the hospitals seem well organized and nice, and as some of my favorite medical student friends remind me “the next generation of medical professionals in the netherlands are going to rock.” Still, does all this qualify as the best in Europe? I think I’ll keep reading and see if I learn anything more.

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Ask Your EU Doctors About

No this is not a spam post.

While in the United States I usually watch a bit of television and I definitely spend time listening to the radio.  One thing you’ll have no problem encountering on both of these mediums: ads that include the phrase “ASk Your Doctor About…” and then some perscription drug to help some ailment.  Apparently the public should then go to their doctors and tell THEM what drugs they want.

In the European Union this practice has long been banned. No ads with senior citizens strolling on the beach recommending that you ask your doctor about some brilliant new drug.

However, this October the EU will roll out new pharmaceutical policies that are intended to, in their words, “Modernize” the rules for the pharma industry.  One of the provisions they’re putting forward will allow the pharma industry to provide “additional information” to the public via the media.  Which of course would make it possible for some sort of television ad within Europe that presents viewers with what the industry seems additional info, whatever that means in the end.

Various medical organizations throughout Europe as well as Ministries of Health, are sounding the alarms, concerned that this is one step towards the US style onsluaght of ads suggestion you need to ask your doctor about this and that drug in order to happily walk through the forest.  The industry, meanwhile, insists that they would have no interest in that type of information campaign, and would instead want this to free them up for internet based info that people can request, rather than have it pushed on them.  Meanwhile, advocates of the changes insist that there are many other useful policies included in the package, and that there would be some oversight as to what would be deemed suitable additional information.

This change sounds like the first of many on the road towards a US style system where pharmaceutical companies treat people more like customers than patients. Beyond that, makes medicine ever more like a business than a service. Is it too late to stop them? I will try to find out.

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