In March, Massachusetts finalized its Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct. The toughest pharmaceutical marketing rules in the country so far, the regulations have far-reaching ramifications for healthcare meetings.

The code, which will take effect on July 1, 2009, regulates interactions between drug and device companies and healthcare practitioners, placing restrictions on meeting venues, gifts, meals, and entertainment. It also requires companies to disclose any gifts or payments to healthcare practitioners worth $50 or more; this data will be made available to the public on a state Web site.

Good News for Meetings

The controversial marketing code was mandated as part of an ambitious healthcare cost-containment bill, which was signed into law by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in August 2008. The restrictions have generated tremendous concern in the hospitality and medical meetings industry, although there is some good news. Due to advocacy efforts by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the final version clarifies that nothing in the code prohibits companies from using hotels, convention centers, or other special-event venues for continuing medical education or other third-party medical meetings. The code does say that venues need to be “appropriate and conducive” to education.

The GBCVB is pleased with the new language and commends the Patrick administration for responding to the hospitality industry's concerns. “This is the law of unintended consequences. They didn't set out to destroy our meetings business,” said Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president and CEO, GBCVB, speaking during a Professional Convention Management Association New England Chapter meeting held in Cambridge, Mass., in March. “They are dealing with the larger issue of healthcare cost containment, which is now a national issue. Do I wish this never happened? Absolutely. But I learned to never underestimate the power of people's voices to get their message across.”

The Massachusetts code bans companies from providing entertainment or recreational items of any value, such as theater or concert tickets, to healthcare practitioners. It also forbids any giveaways, including pens, coffee mugs, and gift cards.

The regulations do allow companies to offer commercial support of CME as long as continuing medical education providers adhere to the standards of the relevant accreditation body, for example, the Accreditation Council for CME.

“The message is: The sky is not falling,” said Jeffrey D. Melin, Med, CMP, director of education for the American Epilepsy Society, West Hartford, Conn., speaking at the PCMA/NE meeting. “Medical society annual meetings will go on.” The AES is meeting in Boston in December, Melin said, underscoring that societies like the AES that follow the ACCME guidelines should not have any concerns.

Dinner Meetings Nixed?

However, dinner meetings for healthcare practitioners licensed in Massachusetts appear to be off-limits under the code, explained healthcare attorney William M. Mandell, Pierce & Mandell PC, Boston, during an April 15 webinar sponsored by the New England Chapter of PCMA.

The code states that informational presentations accompanied by a meal that are sponsored by medical device or drug companies must be held in a medical office, hospital, or a device training facility, not offsite in a restaurant.

CME providers, medical education companies, and other third parties are allowed to use unrestricted grants from pharma companies to offer participants meals at events that meet the code's criteria for scientific conferences. The Department of Public Health will be asked for further clarification about whether third parties can use drug/device company funding to hold dinner meetings at restaurants, Mandell said.

No Jail Time

The Massachusetts code has teeth: rule breakers will be fined up to $5,000 for each violation. But those penalties apply only to drug and device companies, said Mandell, speaking at the PCMA/NE meeting. “No one in this room is going to jail because of this law.”

Another area of ambiguity is the law's jurisdiction. Can a company exhibiting at a medical society annual meeting in Chicago, for example, provide entertainment or gifts for a physician from Massachusetts? Mandell clarified that the law applies to company interactions with healthcare practitioners who are licensed in Massachusetts, regardless of where the interaction takes place.

Pulse:

  • Steve Davidson, RPh, has joined CME Enterprise, a Carmel, Ind.-based accredited CME provider, as a medical education specialist. Previously, he worked at Eli Lilly and Co., where he led the Office of CME and established the first firewall between Lilly's educational and marketing divisions.

  • The American Dental Association, Chicago, hired Kathleen O'Loughlin, DMD, as its new executive director and chief operating officer. She becomes the first female executive director in ADA's 150-year history. O'Loughlin, joins from United Healthcare, where she was chief dental officer.

  • Despite the tough economic times, the American Academy of Dermatology attracted a record 19,000 attendees to its annual meeting held in March in San Francisco. Fifteen percent of attendees were from outside the United States, representing 137 countries.

  • The National Institute for Quality Improvement and Education will hold its second annual conference September 10-11, 2009, at the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare. For more information, visit www.niqie.org.

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