The Case

As the Meetings Coordinator for a medical center, you are thrilled to receive a request for proposal for a satellite symposium at an upcoming AIDS conference. The supporter is a small biotech company that has recently provided grants to you for local events. The person who sent the RFP — Preston Party — is a senior meetings manager within the marketing department.

You become very concerned as you read the RFP. The supporter has indicated that it will provide general program objectives and “market-driven discussion topics,” as well as suggest the chairperson and speakers. The supporter has delineated roles for the “organizing committee” members who will be responsible for approval of content and meeting materials. You assume that the committee will be made up of the faculty, but you learn during a quick conference call with the grantor that it is in fact meant to represent the company's internal review team, which includes marketing personnel. In addition, you learn that Mr. Party wants a wine and cheese reception during the registration period before the symposium begins.

During the call, you diplomatically explain that all stakeholders need to be vigilant in complying with the various guidelines for CME, especially the Standards for Commercial Support and the Office of Inspector General's pharma marketing guidance, but Mr. Party says, “Oh, don't worry — we have done symposia at this conference for years and know all the rules.”

Code Blue

Can you respond to the RFP in a way that mitigates your risk for noncompliance?

Overstreet: This is another of my favorite cases because it's based on actual events. I think it would be difficult to handle this situation compliantly. I'm bothered by a number of things, most importantly the proposed role of marketing personnel throughout the planning process.

Parochka: Karen, you're right. If I were the meetings coordinator, I wouldn't touch Mr. Party's RFP with a 10-foot pole. However, if Mr. Party were willing to turn over the event execution and were able to sign an agreement that countered each troubling point in the RFP, then I would be willing to move ahead with the AIDS conference.

Is it acceptable to serve alcohol in conjunction with CME events?

Overstreet: Although this subject is not covered by any of the guidelines, it makes me uncomfortable. Jackie, you and I have certainly had our share of wine and cocktails, but my personal opinion is that serving alcohol is not appropriate during educational events, or even before them.

Parochka: In order to avoid liability issues related to intoxicated or inebriated participants, many providers are either selling tickets for cash bars or eliminating alcohol altogether. Personally, I feel that the only time alcohol can safely be served is once the educational activity is over. Providers invest considerable money when hiring faculty and developing content — why wouldn't they want the participants to remember what was said?

Karen Overstreet, EdD, RPh, FACME, is president, Indicia Medical Education LLC, North Wales, Pa. Reach her at

Jacqueline Parochka, EdD, FACME, is president and CEO, Excellence in Continuing Education Ltd., Gurnee, Ill. Reach her at

Your Views Welcome

To share your comments on this case, or if you have an “ethical hypothetical” you'd like reviewed, send an e-mail to Editor Tamar Hosansky at