A panel of medical meeting experts explored the compliance issues involved in the commercial support of CME, and with exhibits and sponsorships, at the Professional Convention Management Association’s annual meeting, held January 9–12 in Las Vegas.

While they said it can be difficult to find the funding needed to deliver high-quality education to healthcare providers, they provided some tips on how to avoid land mines.

Understand What's Available
First, they said, it’s important to understand all the different funding types that are available, and which will be most appropriate for your needs. Some, such as sponsorships, will have to be able to show a return on the marketing dollar. Others, such as unrestricted educational grants, must be completely separate from any tie to marketing. If it’s a CME activity you need to find commercial support for, Ray Saputelli, executive vice president of the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, warned providers to design the activity first based on a needs analysis, then look for funding. “Don’t think about what is most likely to get funded,” he said.

A pharma grants professional gave some insight about what pharma looks for in CME grant requests. One suggestion: Show that the activity follows the guidelines set out in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Effectiveness of Continuing Medical Education guidance. For example, if the activity includes elements such as multimedia interventions and/or multiple instruments, is interactive, uses simulation, relates to the healthcare provider’s life experience, is self-directed, and/or includes reflection and feedback mechanisms, say so in the grant request. Some companies also look favorably on grants that include internal partnering with other related departments, such as quality improvement.

While a poll of the audience found the majority believes it pays to include as much detail as possible about the content of the CME activity in the grant request, the pharma grants professional warned not to get too specific. “It’s a red flag if we see something pointing out how closely the activity aligns with our products.” But do get as specific as possible on the needs assessment, she said. There, “the more detail you can give, the better.” And, even if your program chairperson thinks she can get the grant because of her prominence in the field or relationship with the company, don’t fall for it. “Pharma doesn’t necessarily even want to know,” said the grants professional. “We definitely wouldn’t fund based on who the chairperson is.” A compliance officer on the panel added that many of the corporate integrity agreements some pharma companies are now required to follow dictate that the company have someone actively monitoring grants and reviewing speakers to ensure they are not on the company’s speakers bureau.

The Sponsorship Perspective
Things also are a bit more restricted on the sponsorship side these days, said Travelle Moseley, director of meetings, ASE. “A lot of companies just don’t have those big pockets anymore, and there’s also The Code, which brings challenges.” She was referring to the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, which along with the Advamed Code of Ethics provides voluntary guidelines for pharma and medical device company conduct when it comes to healthcare professionals.

Medical meeting planners can help their exhibitors comply with the relevant codes by first knowing the codes themselves, then by knowing about the companies, including which code they have to comply with and their reasons for sponsoring the show (name recognition, new product launch). She warned that the meeting’s locale also matters, since some states have their own rules regarding interactions between industry and healthcare professionals.

While the codes don’t allow companies to directly host a meal at a CME program or provide entertainment, the meeting organizer still can provide value for a sponsor’s dollars by providing a multitiered sponsorship program. That way, you can, for example, thank all your diamond sponsors on a sign at the coffee break, even if they can’t actually sponsor the break, she said. They also still are allowed to sponsor educational items such as USB drives and texts. Another panelist offered the idea of including access to the meeting organizer’s leadership, perhaps as a focus group, as part of a sponsorship package. She advised planners to think of sponsorships in terms of year-round offerings, not just items that can be sponsored at the meeting itself.

For more on the regulations that govern medical meetings, see our Medical Meetings Rules and Regulations Special Report.