“In 1997, 80 percent of the public viewed the pharma industry as favorable. That figure dropped 35 percentage points the following year and has been in free fall ever since,” said David Stern, executive vice president, Endocrinology, EMD Serono, Rockland, Mass., during his keynote address at the Fourth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, citing data from a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive.

But while there is no doubt that public opinion of the pharmaceutical industry is on the decline, meetings can help to improve the public's image of the pharmaceutical industry by educating doctors and their patients on the risks as well as the benefit of drugs, said Stern.

Promote the Positive

Planners have a critical role in helping their organizations to comply with regulatory guidelines and provide balanced and un-biased education to physicians — all while helping to project a positive public image of their companies through meetings. By staying up-to-date on industry trends, meeting planners can help to highlight the positive contributions that pharma companies have made to our society. For example, “because of advancements in pharmaceuticals, hospital stays have decreased 56 percent in the last 20 years,” said Stern, citing October 2006 data on file with the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. “This saves people money and improves their quality of life.”

He also offered attendees data from recent studies that detailed the discrepancy between public opinion of the industry and reality. For example, 60 percent of Americans believe that the cost of prescription drugs accounts for between 40 percent and 80 percent of healthcare spending, according to a study by Harris Interactive. The reality: Drug costs represent just 10 percent of overall healthcare spending, according to “Forecast 2007: At Sea” (Pharmaceutical Executive, January 2007).

Although meetings can help to reinstate confidence in the industry, the biggest challenge is getting doctors to attend, he said. It is an effort worth pursuing: “The industry does a great job of soliciting physicians through meetings, and the spend is worth it.”

Just the Facts

Fourth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum

When: March 17 to 19, 2008

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

Organizers: Medical Meetings magazine and Center for Business Intelligence

Number of attendees: 841

Number of sponsors: 79

Exclusive presenting co-sponsor: American Express

Top sponsors: Marriott International, Hilton Hotels Corp., Hyatt Hotels Corp., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association

Association partners: Professional Convention Management Association, National Business Travel Association

Special Thanks: BACVA, PW Feats, and Audio Visual Innovations for hosting the opening event at the Maryland Science Center