HSA and the regulation of medical devices - an exercise in agenda setting?
The theories of agenda setting are well known, I believe, to all mass comms graduates as well as journalists. Although the formal theories were only formulated about 40 years ago, ideas that the media can influence public opinion have been recognized since the early part of the 20th century.
The recent brouhaha about the regulation of medical devices by the HSA can perhaps be seen in the context of agenda setting. That the media plays an important role in agenda setting is beyond doubt. How the agenda is set however depends on who plays the media. To the media savvy, the media becomes a collaborator in the shaping of public opinion. A media-savvy politician therefore gets a pretty smooth road.
Where HSA failed has been in not recognizing how important the management of public expectations was in the implementation of complex and public-sentiment sensitive policies such as the regulation of medical devices. By defaulting on this, it has willy-nilly allowed the media to set the agenda in a direction contrary to public policy. So, not only has the media been allowed to tell us what issues are important, but it is being allowed to tell us what opinion we should form about the issue. Note the teaser on the front page of the Straits Times today - "Patients should worry about vanishing medical devices". Really? Vanishing medical devices?
Poor HSA CEO John Lim is in the hot seat now. It seems like it is the fashion nowadays to run down the CEOs! I am waiting for the day when someone flashes an old D&D picture of him on a sedan chair carried by half maked women! But it should be recognized that the move towards regulating medical devices had not been developed overnight, but has been on the stove for about a decade. During this decade, the policy has been deliberated and refined under the guidance of 2 Ministers of Health and 2 Board Chairmen. I guess the second team has been quite unlucky to be on watch when this policy was finally ready to be implemented. But seeing how the SMRT issue developed, it seems highly unlikely even this team will get any credit for the mess. So, sadly, it looks like CEO John Lim will be the one catching the ball.
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