A case study in what to do if your medical conference's satellite symposia spin out of control
The Case: Wilma Worrywart is director of CME at the Society of American Shin Splints Specialists. SASSS holds an annual meeting for more than 4,000 healthcare professionals; the conference includes commercially funded satellite symposia certified by other accredited providers. These are held two days in advance of the conference.
When Wilma got back to her office after the 2010 conference, she had a stack of pink phone messages on on her desk, a stuffed e-mail in-box, and a blinking message light on her phone. Something was up, but what was it? As she soon learned, the satellite symposia were out of control!
Wilma noted several common themes among the complaints she was receiving: 1) participants viewed sessions as biased in favor of commercial supporter products; 2) symposia handouts bore pharmaceutical company logos; and 3) disclosure of relevant financial relationships and commercial support were missing. Wilma, wishing she never had to return to her office, began creating a list of issues to discuss with SASSS’s VP of Education.
What steps can be taken to control adjunct meetings?
Parochka: Although annual conference signage and brochures can distinguish satellite activities as not being sponsored by the host organization, participants still can be confused. As recommended by the Council of Medical Specialty Society’s Code on Interactions with Companies, Wilma should consider developing an application and selection process to ensure control over which symposia are held in conjunction with SASSS’s conference. She could establish guidelines and communicate the selection criteria to providers, notify association members that the rules surrounding satellite symposia have changed, and educate commercial supporters, who may also be corporate sponsors and exhibitors, that appropriate conduct is required in all education affiliated with the association’s annual conference.
Overstreet: Wilma could also carefully evaluate the qualifications and expertise of the providers applying for the satellite events to ensure that they understand the intricacies of medical education—educational design principles as well as compliance. And, as recommended in the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies’ Code of Conduct for Commercially Supported CME, she could ensure that her organization does not link commercial exhibits with allocation of space for educational events. Separating the scheduling of, and payment for, exhibits and symposia will help in keeping education distinct from promotion. And, of course, it will be important to train staff on the new policies and processes.
What additional steps could Wilma take to minimize the potential for bias in satellite symposia?
Parochka: Wilma could remind satellite symposium planners that providers are required to follow policies, including that for content validation. Clinical content of CME activities must follow specifications such as ensuring that all recommendations involving clinical medicine in a CME activity are based on evidence that is accepted within the profession of medicine as adequate justification for their indications and contraindications in the care of patients
Overstreet: Wilma also could require providers applying for symposium space to have an appropriate and effective peer-review mechanism.
Karen Overstreet, EdD, RPh, FACME, CCMEP, is executive director, Lippincott CME Institute, Wolters Kluwer Health Medical Research, Blue Bell, Pa. Reach her at Karen.Overstreet@wolterskluwer.com.
Jacqueline Parochka, EdD, FACME, is president and CEO, Excellence in Continuing Education Ltd., Gurnee, Ill.; and partner, PTR Educational Consultants. Reach her at JacquelineParochka@comcast.net.
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