It is a challenge to improve public health within limited resources. Pharmaceutical policy making is a greater challenge due to conflicting interests between key stakeholder groups. This paper reviews current and future strategies to help improve the quality and efficiency of care, with special emphasis on demand-side controls for pharmaceutical prescribing. A large number of different educational, organizational, financial and regulatory strategies have been applied in pharmaceutical policy making. However, the effectiveness of most strategies has not been thoroughly evaluated and there is evidence that the behaviour of healthcare professionals is difficult to influence with traditional methods. During the last decades, new modes of governing and new governing constellations have also appeared in healthcare. However, relationships between those who regulate and those regulated are often unclear. New approaches have recently been introduced, including extensive dissemination strategies for guidelines and extensive quality assessment programmes where physicians' performances are measured against agreed standards or against each other. The main components of these 'soft regulations' are standardization, monitoring and agenda setting. However, the impact of these new modes on health provision and overall costs is often unknown, and the increased focus on monitoring may result in a higher conformity and uniformity that may not always benefit all key stakeholders. Alongside this, a substantial growth of auditing associations controlling a diminishing minority of people actually performing the tasks may be costly and counter-productive. As a result, new effective strategies are urgently needed to help maintain comprehensive healthcare without prohibitively raising taxes or insurance premiums. This is especially important where countries are faced with extreme financial problems. Healthcare researchers may benefit from researching other areas of society. However, any potential strategies initiated must be adequately researched, debated and evaluated to enhance implementation. We hope this opinion paper is the first step in the process to develop and implement new demand-side initiatives building on existing 'soft regulations'.