Two studies released at the Healthcare Convention Exhibitors Association in June found that, despite all the recent regulation around pharmaceutical marketing, including the restrictions on giveaways in the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, physicians still value information they glean on the trade show floor.

In fact, according to a white paper by the Westborough, Mass.–based strategic exhibit company Marketech, the PhRMA code has had a "minimal impact on visitation to exhibits at medical meetings." The PhRMA code was originally developed in 2002; an updated version that banned giveaways of noneducational products by pharma companies on the show floor as well as in physicians’ workplaces (among other restrictions), went into effect in January of this year.

In the first phase of the study, conducted last fall at six major healthcare conventions covering therapeutic disciplines including immunology, osteopathy, thoracic surgery, general practice, and hematology, the company surveyed 856 healthcare professionals to find out how they felt about the code’s restrictions before they went into effect. Seventy-eight percent were adamant that promotional giveaways did not affect their prescribing or recommending habits; and a full three-quarters said they didn’t intend to change their plans to visit exhibits once the gifts were banned from booths.

The second phase of the study, in which Marketech surveyed 550 HCPs at four healthcare conferences in primary care, diabetes, endocrinology, and clinical oncology in the first six months of this year, found that almost 86 percent had not changed their trade show behavior because of the new PhRMA code restrictions. However, 14 percent said that it had made a difference. Another 14 percent weren’t even aware of the code’s existence when they were surveyed.

Not surprisingly, the HCPs surveyed generally weren’t happy with the new code’s restrictions, calling them “crazy” and saying, “I don’t come here for gifts.” Some did approve of the new code. One provider commented, “I think it’s good, because I’m sure some people lose sight of what’s important. (Although I could use a really good pen.)” Another said, “I don’t care about not getting pens. But they took away the cholesterol testing. That’s just silly.”

The white paper also said that, while the study didn’t include HCPs’ perceptions of the effect the Advamed Code would have on their behavior when it became effective July 1, 2009, the assumption is that the results would be similar.

Exhibits More Credible Resource

Another study, this one conducted by the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy for HCEA, and also released at the meeting, found that physicians, while wary of promotion, are less skeptical of information received at medical exhibitions than they are of marketing from pharma field sales representatives or medical journal advertisements.

The report, titled "Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Marketing Efforts: Messages Lost in Skepticism?," included information gleaned from surveying 453 doctors and measuring the degree of skepticism with which they view marketing messages. For both medical device and pharmaceutical companies, exhibitions were viewed with slightly less skepticism than field sales calls and significantly less cynically than journal advertisements. "Although there were no significant differences between skepticism of information shared by sales representatives versus information shared at medical exhibits, this finding would appear to strengthen the position of medical exhibits in the overall marketing mix," the report concludes.

HCEA executive vice president Eric Allen says the study helps answer questions about the effectiveness of healthcare convention marketing versus other forms of marketing. For more information on the MSP study, go to HCEA’s Web site; more on Marketech’s research can be found at