Attorneys from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America hit the road in January to explain the updated Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals to medical meeting professionals at both the Professional Convention Management Association annual conference and the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association Marketing Summit. But in both cases, attendees left with many questions because the voluntary guidelines, which went into effect in January 2009, are purposely vague.

“It's important that there be flexibility to some degree in interpretation,” said Ann Kaplan, assistant general counsel, PhRMA, speaking at PCMA. It should be up to individual companies to decide what's appropriate or not, not PhRMA.

Logos and Lanyards

Most of the discussion centered around the revision that bans companies from giving out noneducational gifts — the kind of items traditionally given away at trade show booths.

Companies may still provide items designed primarily for the education of patients or healthcare professionals if the items are not of substantial value ($100 or less) and do not have value to healthcare professionals outside of their professional responsibilities. For instance, it's acceptable for a company to give a healthcare professional an anatomical model, as long as the value is below $100, said Jeffrey Francer, assistant general counsel, PhRMA, speaking at HCEA.

But are companies allowed to put their logos on these educational items? The code does not restrict a company from putting a logo on an appropriate educational item, like an anatomical model, but it is up to the individual company to decide, Francer said.

Attendees were also concerned about the code's ramifications for medical convention sponsorships. Are companies allowed to sponsor registration bags and lanyards and put their logos on them? Companies might determine that these sponsorships would not fall under the purview of the code, said Francer, since the code focuses on direct interactions between the company and physicians — while the sponsorship of a bag or lanyard could be seen as an arrangement between the association or event organizer and the pharma company.

Where Are the PhRMA Code Police?

What should medical meeting planners do if one of their attendees reports that an exhibit or sponsor has violated the code?

Kaplan informed the packed room at PCMA that the code is voluntary and that there are no “code police” who are going to storm the meeting if there is an infraction.

What often happens, said session moderator Gregg Talley, CAE, president and CEO of Talley Management Group Inc., Mount Royal, N.J., is that attendees report infractions to meeting planners. About a dozen people in the room concurred, saying they have had people report pharmaceutical company infractions to them at meetings. “What do we do?” Talley asked.

“You are not the police,” said Kaplan. Instead, planners should tell that person to report the violation to the company's compliance officer. A list of companies that have signed on to the code, with their compliance officers' contact info, is available at www.phrma.org.

Gray Areas

Another source of frustration for medical meetings professionals is that since the code has gray areas regarding gifts, meals, and venues, companies interpret the rules differently, providing no concrete standards to help meeting planners ascertain what is in compliance and what's not. “It's frustrating for us,” said Talley. “But it's the reality we are dealing with.”

For more on how medical associations are responding to the code, see our cover story package, beginning on page 22. For info about how companies are responding to the code's ban on resort locations for meetings, see pages 30 and 37.

Sidebar: More Compliance Tips

To gain more insight into how to comply with the updated PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, consider attending the Fifth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, March 29-31 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Marjorie E. Powell, senior assistant general counsel, PhRMA, will answer specific questions about compliance during several sessions at the forum, including a special workshop on healthcare convention management.

Additional sessions will address the revised AdvaMed code and the latest developments in state, federal, and international regulations affecting pharmaceutical meetings. The forum is organized by Medical Meetings magazine and the Center for Business Intelligence.

Pulse:

  • The Second Annual Alliance for CME PACME Summit will be held May 7-8, 2009, at the Sofitel in Philadelphia. For information, visit www.acme-assn.org.

  • Only 9 percent of physician respondents to a survey conducted by healthcare market research firm Manhattan Research oppose commercial support for CME. If commercial support were halted, nearly one-half of the respondents said they would decrease their participation in CME.

  • The Accreditation Council for CME announced in January that it will begin making more data public about ACCME-accredited providers, including current accreditation status; total number of activities, hours, and participants; acceptance of commercial support; and facilitation of exhibits and advertising.

  • UniversalProcon, Stamford, Conn., a healthcare meetings management company, is expanding its presence in the United Kingdom and Europe by appointing Rowenne Brockfield manager of strategic development-virtual meetings. She had been a project manager with the company.