Pharmacists do a lot more these days than hand out cough syrup: According to U.S. Pharmacist, in 2001 97 percent conferred with physicians about prescriptions; 94 recommended modifications in patient prescriptions; and 93 percent recommended at least eight products a day. But while their role in health care delivery has been expanding, their educational opportunities have not, according to Boston-based M/C Communications, organizers of the Pri-Med series of conferences and exhibitions for the primary medicine community. “National association meetings are a great networking and educational opportunity for pharmacists,” says Christine O'Connell, senior vice president of business development and M/C Communications co-founder. “But they don't reach the majority of people. When [the event] is in their backyard, they find it easier to attend.”

That's why M/C Communications decided to launch a new program series, Pharm-Med, to bring clinically focused education to pharmacists where they live — and to do it at no cost to participants. Based on its Pri-Med model, the new program series will begin this fall with a series of one-day conferences for pharmacists in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Boston. In May 2003, it will launch a three-day Pharm-Med Conference and Exposition in Chicago that the company believes will draw more than 3,000 practicing pharmacists, who can earn 16 hours of free continuing education credit. The company expects about 400 attendees for each of the one-day Pharm-Med Updates.

Aren't these attendance expectations a little ambitious for a new program? “All I can say is I remember when we launched Pri-Med and our course director said we'd be lucky to get 500 physicians in the room; she was very surprised when we had 4,200 attend the first year,” says O'Connell. Since Pharm-Med's business and marketing is similar, hopes are high for a similar success rate.

The location for the conference and expo also should help. Focus groups initially rated the concept eight on a scale of 10 (with 10 being the highest). “When we said it would be in Chicago, most gave it a 10,” says O'Connell. “There's a very high penetration of pharmacists in Chicago. We like the Rosemont Convention Center and the whole area, and the demographics were right.”

Follow the Leader

Pri-Med, whose first show was launched in Boston in 1995, was so successful that it soon expanded to other cities. There now are conferences in Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Calif., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Chicago. M/C Communications decided to follow a similar strategy for its Pharm-Med Conference and Exposition by partnering with appropriate organizations to ensure it gets the right audience.

For Pharm-Med, that means partnering with U.S. Pharmacist magazine, regional associations, regional chapters of national associations, HMOs, hospital pharmacist networks, and universities. The magazine, which has an accredited educational arm, is developing content for the 2003 Chicago conference in conjunction with the University of Illinois, Chicago. “We vendor the conference content portion out,” says program director Celeste Hunter. “We set the groundwork for an accredited program of high quality with national leading speakers and then put it in the hands of our partners to carry out.”

The one-day conferences are a little different, Hunter says. “Each is a series of six one-hour-and-15-minute programs, with 15 minute breaks in between. Companies that support the update through an unrestricted educational grant can have a tabletop exhibit.” The updates locations also were chosen for their pharmacist demographics.

One big difference between the launches of Pri-Med and the new Pharm-Med is the sequence of events: Pri-Med was established four years before the first update-format series came on board in 1999. But for Pharm-Med, the one-day updates are coming before the first conference and expo. “We debated which we should launch first, Pharm-Med or the Pharm-Med Updates,” says O'Connell. “We decided it would be good to get the name out there, to start getting some partners on board earlier and get more people involved in the meetings as a whole.”

The relationships involved in these programs are so important that the company actually has a group led by its vice president that's dedicated to forming relationships. “We treat our partners as clients — they're very important to us,” says O'Connell.