Starting or Strengthening a Drug Bulletin - A Practical Manual
(2005; 165 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentPreface
View the documentHow the manual was produced
View the documentAbout ISDB
View the documentExecutive summary
Open this folder and view contents1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Rational use of medicines
Close this folder3. What are drug bulletins?
View the document3.1 Definition
View the document3.2 The history of drug bulletins
View the document3.3 What makes an ‘independent’ drug bulletin independent?
View the document3.4 Types of editorial content
View the document3.5 Styles of communicating information
View the document3.6 The institutional base
View the document3.7 References
Open this folder and view contents4. Defining aims, target and type of bulletin
Open this folder and view contents5. Planning resources
Open this folder and view contents6. Planning bulletin production: schedules and timing
Open this folder and view contents7. The editorial process
Open this folder and view contents8. Reviewing a new drug: is it a therapeutic advance?
Open this folder and view contentsAnnexe to Chapter 8: Evaluating harm
Open this folder and view contents9. Design and production
Open this folder and view contents10. Dissemination
Open this folder and view contents11. Organizational and legal issues
Open this folder and view contents12. Evaluating quality and usefulness
Open this folder and view contents13. Partnership and collaboration
Open this folder and view contents14. Keeping records and creating a memory
Open this folder and view contentsAppendix: Electronic sources of information

3.2 The history of drug bulletins

Drug bulletins began to appear around 1960, at a time when pharmaceutical research leading to the introduction of new drugs had begun to revolutionise the practice of medicine. This was also the time of the thalidomide disaster, which forced the world to pay serious attention to the harm that drugs might cause.

Medical, pharmacy, nursing and other health journals for health professionals have always published articles about drugs and other medical treatments, but such articles have to compete with a mass of other material. The result remains a rather haphazard coverage of therapeutics in both general and specialist journals. Through their practical orientation, drug bulletins fill a special need: to provide information in a way that helps practitioners make informed decisions about the use of pharmaceuticals.

The growth in importance of the pharmaceutical industry during the 1950s and 1960s was accompanied by a large increase in drug advertising. An increasing number of thoughtful and critical doctors wanted to be better informed about drugs, especially new drugs, and needed independent assessments of manufacturers' claims. The 1960s also marked a time in which a growing consumer rights movement became increasingly active in health policy. The earliest drug bulletins were published by consumer organizations although their readers were almost all doctors. This is still the case for several large, successful, national bulletins and no doubt reflects a recognition by consumer groups that independent prescribing information for doctors can help to contribute to better health services.

The first drug bulletin, The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, was started in the USA in 1959 by Harold Aaron, a physician who had been medical adviser of Consumers’ Union (CU), itself the world's oldest consumer organization, and Arthur Kallet who had been the director of CU. In 1962 it was adapted for prescribers in the United Kingdom (UK) as the UK edition of the Medical Letter, published by the Consumers' Association, and a year later this became the separate Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. At the same time the Ministry of Health in the UK began to publish Prescribers’ Notes for doctors working in the National Health Service, which later became Prescribers' Journal (no longer published).

One can guess why this activity started in the USA and in the UK. At that time American pharmaceutical companies were producing more new drugs, were marketing them more aggressively, and had a larger domestic market than companies elsewhere, so a critical mass of doctors perceived a need for independent information earlier than in other countries. Britain was unique in having a National Health Service that paid for all medicines. The Government thus had a strong reason for wanting to improve the quality of prescribing, to get better value for the large expenditure on drugs.

In the next 30 years many more drug bulletins were started in various European countries and also in Australasia, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Now between 50 and 100 bulletins are published worldwide - the exact number depends on the definition used. These bulletins differ greatly in their target groups and circulation, their scope, size and frequency, the method of production and style of presentation, the teams producing them, their links to institutions and organizations, and how they are funded. One perhaps unexpected aspect of this diversity is that in some countries (e.g. Germany, Italy, Spain) several bulletins exist side by side, addressing different though sometimes overlapping readerships and sometimes specialising in different topic areas.

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