A member of the Continuing Medical Education community on LinkedIn recently faced a task that was new to her: ensuring that product showcases held at a CME event wouldn't cross any lines. She turned to the other members for suggestions and advice; following are some of the highlights of the discussion that ensued.

The Case In Question

The product showcases, the CME LinkedIn group member explained, would be a chance for exhibitors to further demonstrate their products, devices, and equipment, and answer technical questions. They would be held outside of the accredited CME hours and activities, be purely optional for attendees, and would not be attended by faculty or planned by CME staff. While her organization doesn't normally include product showcases, past attendees had requested more time to learn the techniques being taught and compare competitive products in more detail.

Suggestions and Advice

All advised that she proceed with extreme caution, particularly if the course in question is being offered for AMA PRA 1 credit. One person said that, even if the products being showcased are not pharmaceuticals or medical devices, the appearance of bias may sneak in and a product showcase may not be appropriate.

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, senior vice president, educational strategy, with Provo Education, an affiliate of Omnia Education, and the LinkedIn group's founder, suggested that she start by looking at her organization's policy for commercial exhibits. This could provide guidelines on what constitutes an appropriate environment for the exhibitors, give the vendors specific guidelines to follow, and provide a process for monitoring the exhibitors and the product showcases, along with “other details that will give you an internal comfort level.” He added, “You'll certainly need to be sure that the promotional exhibits are clearly separate from the educational activity, and you will need separate documentation, agreements, and contracts with the exhibitors.”

If the organization is receiving commercial support for the activity, it must be clear there is no quid pro quo, meaning that a company isn't allowed to exhibit just because it funded education, or vice versa, that nonsupporters wouldn't be allowed to participate in the product showcase, said another group member.

One person expressed mixed emotions about product showcases related to educational activities. On one hand, “it makes logical sense to offer hands-on training opportunities when learners gather for live education. And it makes perfect sense to allow exhibitors the chance to showcase their products,” he said. “However, there are clearly mixed messages therein — and in an environment where even strictly managed commercial support of healthcare provider education is widely criticized, mixed events are routinely used as evidence of the financial motivations of CME professionals and CME offices.”

He added, “I wish you luck, and I echo Lawrence's comments — there is no way you can be conservative enough with the path you are traveling. Use a different room, have clear ‘Promotional Event’ signage everywhere, set up a separate ‘Promotional Event Registration Booth’ that asks participants to sign a waiver stating that they know they are ‘leaving the independent educational venue and electing to join a commercial event,’ and use completely different materials (slides and workbooks). Overcommunicate and the risks of confusion can hopefully be mitigated.”

The CME LinkedIn group can be found at http://bit.ly/aQRFyh, or go to www.linkedin.com and search the groups for “Continuing Medical Education.”

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For more on the rules and regulations on pharmaceutical company interactions with healthcare providers, visit our http://meetingsnet.com/medicalmeetings/cme_rules_regs/