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Soc Sci Med. 1999 Feb;48(3):393-405.

Medicine, economics and agenda-setting.

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  • 1Centre for Health Program Evaluation, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia.


The filtering of potential policy issues from a large range of possibilities to a relatively small list of agenda items allows the organisation of power and influence within a policy sector to be examined. This study investigated power and influence in health policy agenda-setting in one State of Australia (Victoria) in the years 1991, 1992 and 1993. The actors seen as influential were predominantly medically trained and working in academia, health bureaucracies and public teaching hospitals. This research supports an elite model of health policy agenda-setting, in which outcomes are dependent on the structured interests within the policy field. However, while the corporate elite of the profession is influential, the frontline service providers are not, as indicated by the location of influentials in large and prestigious organisations. Politicians and professional associations and unions are less well represented, and consumer and community groups are virtually absent. In 1993 there was a sharp increase in economists being nominated as influentials, with a subsequent decrease in influentials with medical training. This relates to a (perceived or real) shift in influence from the medical profession to senior health bureaucrats. Economic concerns appear to be shaping the visible health policy agenda, through an increased number of influentials with economics training, but also through an apparent ability to shape the issues that other influentials are adding as agenda items. The corporate elite of medicine remains powerful, but their range of concerns has been effectively limited to cost containment or cost reduction, better planning and efficiency. This limiting of concerns occurs within an international policy context, where the general trends of globalisation and an emphasis on neo-liberal economics impact on the direction of health policy in individual countries.

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