Increasing government scrutiny and more regulation—that's what pharmaceutical companies and continuing medical education providers should expect for the foreseeable future, said speakers at the fourth annual Continuing Medical Education conference, cosponsored by the Center for Business Intelligence andmagazine. Held June 10 to 11 at the Park Hyatt Philadelphia, the conference attracted about 130 attendees, including representatives from pharma firms, medical education and communication companies, and academic CME offices.
With the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill, the government will be paying out $500 billion to $600 billion more per year, according to conservative estimates. With that kind of money at stake, there is no question government regulation of pharmaceutical company marketing practices will increase, warned speakers.
Meanwhile, pharma companies have already been implementing dramatic changes in their marketing and education strategies in order to comply with the Office of Inspector General’s pharma marketing guidance, issued last April. When attendees were asked via an audience response system whether their marketing strategies have changed because of the new regulations, 75 percent of respondents answered yes, while 25 percent said no.
Meetings for healthcare professionals are under particular scrutiny. The OIG guidance warns that supplying doctors with gifts, recreation, travel, meals, and entertainment could violate fraud, abuse, and anti-kickback laws.
To address that issue, the conference included a panel of hoteliers and meeting planners, who discussed how to plan events in compliance with federal laws. Meeting planners are in a difficult position, as doctors expect upscale venues and service, while some companies have reacted to the government guidelines and investigations by not allowing planners to choose facilities and destinations that have the perception of being luxury locales. The irony is that, in some cases, booking high-level properties could actually save the company time and money, because of their expertise in handling meetings, commented one meeting planner.
Here are some tips from the panelists:
- Promote content, not parties: Make sure marketing materials for meetings emphasize content, not venue. However, you can ask the tourism or convention and visitors bureaus to send potential attendees information promoting the location.
- Pick partners that understand compliance: If you outsource meeting planning, make sure to work with a company that understands the guidelines and has a track record of handling medical meetings.
- Hoteliers can help: Hotel companies, such as Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton, are making efforts to meet pharma planners’ needs, by training their staff in the guidelines and developing food and beverage packages that won't raise a red flag. Make sure you communicate your needs and concerns to your hotel partners.
- Cater to the customer: Despite all the restrictions, remember that the attendees are your customers, and that venue and atmosphere are very important to participants.