In Today's Constantly changing medical meetings business, professional planners are juggling more than logistics. With numerous parties involved in the success of the continuing medical education program, meeting planners now need to know about more than high-tech audiovisual equipment, the special diet requirements of attendees, and how to find a comfortable meeting room. It is becoming equally important for the planner to manage the stakeholders. This includes understanding all the players attending the meeting, as well as having a basic understanding of the clinical topic being presented. It also means having a complete grasp of the relevant guidelines, such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals and Accreditation Council for CME rules.

At first glance, following the PhRMA guidelines may seem simple. But, for example, the code states that informational presentations and discussions may be accompanied by occasional modest meals. It defines a modest meal as one of “modest value as judged by local standards.” But that could mean different things in, say, New York City and in other areas of the country. And the judgment call seems to fall with the meeting planner, since the planner is the one who selects the restaurant. Is the meeting planner becoming the gatekeeper for the CME industry?

To complicate the mix, meeting planners rarely have knowledge about the clinical topic. How then can we expect investigators, auditors, government officials, industry representatives and, last but not least, patients to believe that the meeting planner makes a difference beyond the logistics?

Further, while technically the ownership of the meeting falls on the accredited provider, many organizations operate as if ownership lies with the medical education company or the commercial supporter. Meeting planners often work in a politically charged environment with little knowledge about the stakeholders. There can be great differences in the attendee market because of physicians' different practice settings, such as managed care, government, and health systems. Deciphering the guidelines as they apply to all of the independent parties in each of these arenas can be a daunting task even for the astute medical meeting planner. Do today's meeting planners receive the training they need to understand and manage these issues?

Expand Your Influence

I work for an accredited provider, a medical education company that takes such training very seriously. I'm invited to attend grant launch meetings where I'm given an overview of the disease state being discussed for the education activity. I'm given information about the broad spectrum of therapies available for treatment of the disease as well as the morbidity rate when the disease is untreated. Once an educational activity is developed and ready for delivery, I'm asked to review the activity and to complete our internal evaluation. This rigorous training has opened my eyes to the possibilities of the influence I can exert beyond planning the meeting logistics.

Given the educational climate of the CME industry, it's becoming increasingly clear that there must be a collaborative approach to CME. All collaborators need to be well educated not only about the PhRMA code and accreditation guidelines, but they must also understand how these rules affect the ultimate end — improving patient care. Meeting planners must employ a rigorous, sometimes self-directed approach in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding of live CME activities. When medical meeting planners are significantly involved in the process, it seems more likely that quality CME and improved patient care will be the result.


Holly Murray, BS, MS, is meeting services manager for PRIME®, an Accreditation Council for CME accredited provider based in Tamarac, Fla. Reach her at h.murray@primeinc.org.